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BMS hearing continues; county officials testify

February 19, 2011
By Deb Gau

MARSHALL - Testimony continued Friday during a Bureau of Mediation Services hearing concerning area health and human services agencies. However, the outcome will not be known until next week, a hearing official said.

Five people, including area county officials, testified for Southwest Health and Human Services throughout the day Friday.

At issue in the hearing are whether SHHS is an alter ego for Lincoln, Lyon and Murray Human Services and Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Pipestone Public Health, and whether the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the official bargaining unit for SHHS employees. The "alter ego" issue is important, representatives for AFSCME said, because labor laws prohibit employers from doing business under a new name in order to evade a union contract.

LLMHS and LLMPH dissolved at the end of 2010, and were replaced by SHHS, representatives for the organization said.

However, Ann Goering, attorney for SHHS, said the alter ego argument didn't apply to the merger of LLMHS and LLMPH. The merger of health and human service agencies was not intended to get rid of union representation for employees, or to take away employee benefits, she said.

SHHS Director Christopher Sorensen and financial director Nancy Walker both testified for SHHS, saying one of the goals for the merger was to cut duplications in administrative and supervisory costs for health and human services. Cost savings as a result of the merger were to come from losing those additional supervisory positions, not from cutting employee benefits, they said. Sorensen and Walker also said that evading a union contract or removing AFSCME were not brought up as reasons to merge.

Other officials testifying for SHHS included Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg, SHHS Human Services Board chairman Kevin Vickerman, and Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre. Rock County is planning to join SHHS in 2012, after ending its participation in a public health contract with Sanford Health. All testified that removing AFSCME or cutting employee benefits were never mentioned as reasons to go through with the merger.

On cross-examination, Tim Andrew, attorney for AFSCME, focused on issues like whether determining employee seniority or benefits was discussed in the merger process, and whether SHHS was truly a new entity.

Michael Stockstead, the BMS hearing official, said the hearing will reconvene for a determination of unit at 9 a.m. Friday in the Lyon County Government Center.

 
 

 

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