09/25/08 — Cherry workers upset at flaws in new payroll system

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Cherry workers upset at flaws in new payroll system

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 25, 2008 1:38 PM

The state's new payroll system, which was introduced at state hospitals in April, is not working, say some workers at Cherry Hospital.

Peggy Evans, a health care technician at Cherry Hospital for nine years, said Wednesday workers are not receiving their money, putting them behind on car and house payments.

"People are losing their homes. It's not right," she said. "A lot of people that I have talked to have been hurt by the BEACON system."

State agencies began using the new payroll system in mid-December. The state Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Corrections and other agencies started using it April 1. BEACON is an acronym for Building Enterprise Access for NC's Core Operation Needs.

Employees are paid once a month. The system has been complicated by the fact that glitches have yet to be corrected, Ms. Evans said.

"We get paid on time. We're just not getting our money," she said. "Our check stubs, we can't read them because we don't know what the abbreviations are. There's a lot of people here not getting their pay."

She rattled off a list of examples -- from one staffer who checked and his bank account only had $7 in it to one shortchanged by $500, another by $800.

"Right now we have got a petition, asking the governor to declare a state of emergency because people can't sleep on the streets," Ms. Evans said. "People don't understand that we want our money now and we need it.

"Gas is going up, everything is going up, and you ain't getting paid. ... It's a hardship because people are getting behind in their bills. Fix the system or go back to the one we had."

Larsene Taylor, a health care technician at Cherry for 16 years, said the issue is statewide.

Before it came to this, though, workers from state hospitals across North Carolina had already begun meeting to lobby for better working conditions. Meeting in Greensboro in January, they devised the Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights, which will be voted on in October.

"That's when we mobilized together all the workers to come together from different institutions, and held a public hearing in May," Ms. Taylor said. "Since then, we have been getting together to explain to workers we have got to have this bill of rights."

In the midst of the effort, however, the BEACON system was introduced, adding fuel to the fire.

A contingent has also visited the state controllers office, with future plans including the October vote for the bill of rights and lobbying the General Assembly in January.

"How do we get our money back? We can't make them pay us," she said. "So we have to apply as much pressure as we can."

The women are doing their part, affiliated with the UE Local 150, N.C. Public Service Workers union. Ms. Evans is vice president and Ms. Taylor is secretary-treasurer. A noontime rally was schedule for Wednesday outside the hospital's administration building. Similar rallies were held at other hospitals around the state, Ms. Taylor said.

The only ones who turned out for the Cherry rally were the two women.

"I'm really upset, disappointed," Ms. Taylor said. "There's a fear factor and I understand that. We have what I thought were some strong leaders, willing to stand up and take a stand."

Tom Lawrence, public affairs director for DHHS, admitted the payroll system is flawed.

"We have had issues for several months now, various types of issues, primarily because our department is different than that of most state government," Lawrence said, citing the unusual work-shift structure at state hospitals as part of the reason.

"The system is not set up to handle those things very easily. There's also an issue with people not filling out forms properly."

Lawrence said the state controller's office has been working closely with the institution's personnel department, but was aware that state hospitals, as well as the Department of Corrections and other agencies, are still experiencing problems.

"We have been attempting, at least up here, to handle employees on an individual basis," he said. "I think things have smoothed out, at least for a bit.

"We feel their pain but there's nothing we can unilaterally do if the state is committed to (the BEACON system). If they're having problems down there (at Cherry), just know that they're being worked on."