SHAMOKIN - Two city employees scheduled for furlough filed grievances to keep their jobs, although the mayor says resolution may have been reached in one case.

Ronald Kerstetter, a street department laborer, cites language in his union's collective bargaining agreement that he says claims he can't be laid off for economic reasons.

Patrolman Nathan Rhodes claims seniority in his petition to remain with the police department. Rhodes declined comment Tuesday, but Mayor William D. Milbrand said the patrolman agreed to a layoff Tuesday afternoon and that he had no plans to take the matter to arbitration.

Kerstetter, Rhodes and Cpl. Jarrod Scandle are slated to be laid off beginning Monday, as will special officers Norm Lukoskie and Robert Searls, according to city officials.

The furloughs were approved last month as part of city council's efforts to erase a $616,000-plus deficit and balance the 2014 budget at more than $2.5 million.

Originally set to begin Jan. 1, the furloughs were delayed two weeks, in Kerstetter's case to serve as official notice per the collective bargaining agreement. Similar contract language does not exist with the police union, but the officers were kept on as a courtesy, city officials said previously.

Seniority issue

Both Rhodes and Patrolman Raymond Siko II were hired eight years ago in January 2006. Despite being hired at the same time, Rhodes says in his grievance that he has seniority.

His grievance cites his military background giving him veteran preference and says that when the two work the same shift, he is the designated "officer in charge." He says he was sworn in first and that he chooses vacation days before Siko, according to the grievance.

Milbrand said Tuesday that, according to Police Chief Edward Griffiths, Siko received his first assignment before Rhodes and that is how seniority is determined.

Griffiths was unavailable for comment.

Rhodes' grievance was received Jan. 2 by the city's human resources specialist, Michelle Quinn, who said the process is at Step III, meaning Milbrand has seven days to respond. Should a resolution not be reached, it can progress to the entire city council before being eligible for arbitration, according to the police union's contract.

Neither Rhodes nor Siko offered comment when contacted Tuesday.

Milbrand said he will work with Griffiths on department policy to determine seniority in the event two employees are hired at the same time.

Contract terms

Shamokin and Local 2433 of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are in the final year of a three-year contract that began Jan. 1, 2012. It states, "All regular employees i.e. union members are guaranteed no layoff for the life of this contract because of economic reasons."

Kerstetter filed a grievance Dec. 30, saying his furlough violates the contract and that he seeks to retain his full-time job. It was first presented to former Councilman Michael Snyder, who oversaw the street department before he officially left office Monday. New Councilman Charlie Verano was sworn into office Monday and now oversees the department.

Verano met with department employees Tuesday morning for the first time in his capacity as a city councilman. He was made aware of the grievance but said he has not yet reviewed it. He withheld further comment.

The matter is at Step II in the grievance process, according to the contract. If after 10 working days the issue is not resolved, an appeal can be made to the entire city council. From there it could go to arbitration.

Kerstetter's grievance was not presented to department Foreman Kevin Richardson because he is also a union member and the representative for all of Local 2433, which encompasses several municipalities.