The number of hours temporary employees work for James City County has ticked up in the past decade, suggesting they have become a more permanent part of the county workforce.
These employees, variously classified as temporary, seasonal and on-call, though generally referred to as temporary employees, fulfill a variety of roles across county departments. Most work for parks and recreation, and temporary employees there have job titles such as park attendant, bus driver and lifeguard. Interns, secretaries and other office assistants have also been classified as temporary employees in other departments.
While temporary employees have similar responsibilities and can potentially work as many hours as regular employees with the same job title, they aren’t eligible for benefits, no matter how many hours they work. One temporary employee recently cried foul about that policy, but the county doesn’t have plans to change it.
Though the county defines temporary employees as workers needed in a specific role for 12 months or less, it’s relatively common for them to work for more than a year in the same position.
“Ideally, it’s just for 12 months, but some positions do extend further,” county human resources director Patrick Teague said.
There’s been an increase in the number of total temporary hours since fiscal year 2010, though the county’s total temporary hours fluctuates year-to-year, averaging 128,396 hours annually. This fiscal year, the county has budgeted 127,541 hours for temporary employees. That’s an increase of about 6% compared to the 120,211 hours for temporary employees in FY10, according to budget documents.
The county records temporary employees in its budgets by the number of temporary hours departments are allocated rather than by the number of people actually employed in temporary roles. Teague was able to say there are 381 people employed on a short-term basis in roles classified as temporary, on-call or seasonal in FY20, but he was unable to say how many people were employed similarly 10 years ago. There are 835 part- and full-time county positions funded in the FY20 budget.
James City County spends about 13% more on wages for temporary employees now than it did 10 years ago.
In FY10, the county allocated $1.4 million to pay the wages for temporary employees. In FY20, which started in July, the county allocated $1.6 million, Teague said. Departments make requests for temporary hours during the budget cycle, with approval coming from the Board of Supervisors.
When asked about the apparent increase in use of temporary employees, Teague said country growth and the corresponding demand for services could be a factor.
The county’s population was estimated at 76,397 by the census bureau in July 2018. That’s up from a little more than 67,000 in April 2010.
Parks and recreation staff have noted an increase in people attending its programming in recent years. In FY17, 3.8 million people visited county facilities and participated in programming, up from the 2.1 million people who used the department’s amenities in FY09, according to a 2018 department report.
Generally, temporary employees have one of two functions: they either “fill a gap” that can’t be covered by a regular full-time employee, or they help manage the workload created by new programming while the county determines if more permanent workers are needed to continue the service, Teague said.
If county officials feel a particular service or program handled by a temporary employee is vital enough, conversations start about turning that specific job into a regular position. It can take some time to collect enough data to inform that decision, Teague said.
And it does happen that temporary jobs are reclassified as regular jobs. In the FY20 budget, parks and recreation got approval to turn nine temporary part-time positions into part-time regular jobs.
Benefits aren’t part of the county’s calculation when it looks to fill what are expected to be short-term and potentially high-turnover roles. Benefits come into play with regular positions as an incentive to attract and retain workers. Temporary employees are in roles where long-term stability isn’t a goal, though some temporary employees do stay in jobs for a while.
“If they choose to stay, that’s great, but it isn’t a regular position,” Teague said.
Among current temporary employees, the median length of employment is two years. About 30% have been in their roles for a year or less, 52% have been in their role for one to five years and 18% have been working for five years or more, Teague said. Those numbers include employment in the Williamsburg Regional Library, Old Town Medical and Dental Clinic and Williamsburg Area Transit Authority. The county provides regular budget allocations to these and other agencies, but doesn’t provide a breakdown of temporary employees in those organizations in its budgets.
A number of temporary jobs have been on the payrolls for at least a decade, park ranger and lifeguard among them, according to budget documents
Some job titles apply to both temporary and regular employees, and both classifications of employees start at the same entry level pay in identical job positions, Teague said.
Regular employees are eligible for benefits if they work 780 hours or more in a year. Temporary employees are ineligible for benefits, no matter how many hours they work.
That doesn’t seem fair to Scott Eklind, a temporary county employee who has worked at Freedom Park since summer 2016.
A park attendant, Eklind works throughout the year for an hourly wage providing customer service to park visitors, cleaning trails, and other tasks out of the park’s interpretive center. Eklind calculates he worked more than 780 hours in both 2017 and 2018.
“I can work as many hours as another part-time employee and not get those benefits,” he said. “It’s simply not fair to give or deny benefits based on job classification.”
When Eklind started the job, he just assumed as a part-time employee he, as well as everyone else who is a part-time employee for James City County, wasn’t eligible for benefits. So he didn’t think much of it until he stumbled upon information earlier this year noting other part-time employees get benefits.
“That’s when I was like hmm, what’s going on here?,” he said.
When he went looking for answers in February as to why he doesn’t get benefits, he was told by the county’s human relations department that his designation as temporary is the hurdle.
And that hurdle looks like it will stay put. Teague said the county doesn’t have plans to consider introduction of benefits for temporary employees.
However, the county is in the process of reviewing its regular part-time workforce to see where adjustments need to be made, and a recommendation that could come out of that would be to reclassify temporary positions into regular part-time ones. Staff recommendations for the board’s consideration could be finalized in two to three months.
“We haven’t been caught flat footed. We’re being methodical,” Teague said.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_