Once Schurz Communications takes over, Burlington Telecom employees won't receive the same sweet benefits package they currently enjoy as city workers.
Each staff member will lose at least 12 — and up to 17 — days off annually, according to BT spokesperson Abbie Tykocki. The retirement benefits and health care offerings from Schurz are also less generous than employees' current options from the city of Burlington, she said.
During the lengthy sales process last year, "we all had felt or had heard that the benefits [would be] comparable," Tykocki said. In retrospect, she acknowledged, "what the definition of comparable is up for debate." Currently, 24 of BT's full-time 26 employees get benefits through their jobs, she said.
The city offers a pension plan and 24 days off, including federal holidays, as well as a lengthy list of discounts and other perks.
BT employees will submit a side-by-side comparison of the benefits packages to the Burlington City Council next Monday, Tykocki said. Support from the council may encourage Schurz to up its offerings.
CEO Todd Schurz defended his company's benefits options, and said that the offerings are similar to other private companies. Schurz employees generally end up satisfied — the "average tenure in our company is over 12 years," he said. Nonetheless, he called the transition from publicly owned to private "tricky."
A Schurz human resources employee would sit down individually with each BT worker to clear up misunderstandings and address specifics for each employee, he said. For now, "there isn't sufficient clarity," he admitted.
The council sold the city telecom to the Indiana media company last year, though the deal won't be sealed until the state Public Utility Commission signs off. That will likely happen later this year.
BT general manager Stephen Barraclough said he expected the two groups would work out their differences. He praised the Schurz offer, and said that the city is "uniquely generous" in its benefits package.
After all, Barraclough pointed out, only a municipal employer would offer Bennington Battle Day and Town Meeting Day off, as well as a pension plan.
Still, Tykocki maintained that Schurz's flat rate for health care, rather than a sliding scale based on income that employees currently pay, "could be a pretty big financial burden for people," Tykocki said.
Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-North District), who also serves on the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board, said he'd push the city council to advocate on behalf of employees.
"If it wasn't for the sweat and tears of the BT employees over the last 10 years, where would we be?" he said, explaining that it was the employees who had made the entity successful. "I hope we can come to some kind of an agreement here."