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PUB approves 12-hour shifts for plant operators

PARKERSBURG – The Parkersburg Utility Board on Tuesday approved a permanent change to 12-hour shifts for water and wastewater treatment plant operators.

During the board’s regular meeting, conducted in person and via the Microsoft Teams app, Manager Eric Bennett said the approximately 18 plant operators were moved from eight-hour shifts that had them working 21 days a month to 12-hour shifts 14 days a month in mid-2019.

The arrangement was initially authorized by the board as a six-month trial. Bennett said the departure of a wastewater treatment plant operator during the period would have skewed the data until a replacement was hired, so he continued the trial.

The new setup was found to both save on costs and boost morale, Bennett said.

A comparison of the preceding 12 months with eight-hour shifts and the last 12 months with 12-hour shifts indicated a decrease in both regular and overtime hours, according to a memo Bennett provided to the board.

“Between both facilities, total paid hours (were) reduced by 4.08 percent and overtime hours were reduced by 16.3 percent,” the memo said.

An actual dollar savings was difficult to produce because employees’ pay rates did change during those periods, it said.

Bennett said there was a slight increase in the amount of vacation time cashed in after the switch. Employees have the option to be paid for up to 40 hours of vacation time in a year because the time they earn does not carry over to the next year. Usually two employees a year take advantage of this, but most recently, four did.

Bennett attributed that to employees having more flexibility with the new shifts.

“They have longer periods off,” he said. “They have more personal time.”

This resulted in about $2,000 more paid. But Bennett said if the vacation had been taken, there could have been some overtime costs incurred as well.

The motion to make the change permanent was approved 5-0.

In other business, board member Robert Wright asked if the utility was receiving payments from accounts that were late when shutoffs were suspended for several months because of financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Comptroller Erin Hall said she did not have statistics available but a number of customers had reached out to make payment arrangements.

“We are catching up,” she said.

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