For the past three years the immaculately groomed, middle-aged woman has worked at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Though classified as an intermittent worker, an employe limited to 130 full-time work days a year, she said she has worked full-time at the board nearly every day.
She has filed voter registration cards, stuffed envelopes, counted ballots and performed various office duties along with 33 other full-time civil service employes who run the city's elections.
But unlike her civil service co-workers, the shy, smiling woman, who asks anonymity out of fear of losing her job, has never received sick leave, overtime pay, unemployment compensation, medical insurance, social security or credit toward a government pension plan throughout the years she has worked for the board.
The woman's dilemma is shared by at least nine other employes who help run the city's elections, said Lillie Fitzgerald, the board's administrative officer in charge of personnel. But the practice is not limited to that city government agency alone.
Sam Jordan, special assistant to the director of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employes, District Council 20, said about 1,200 intermittent workers employed by the D.C. Board of Education have shared a similar problem for the past 11 years.
Jordan called the practice "a complete disregard for employe rights and working conditions."
The elections board explained its practice of assigning the election workers to full-time, temporary jobs without providing employment benefits by claiming staff shortages and ignorance of the D.C. Personnel Office regulations.
Shari Kharasch, chairwoman of the board, said in the past the board has communicated with George Harrod, director of the D.C. Personnel Office, to try to determine the board's personnel guidelines. Since they had failed to set up their own personnel policies, Kharasch said, the elections board should have been following the D.C. personnel guidelines.
"I don't think (ignorance) gives us the excuse," said Kharasch. "I believe they should be compensated and found permanent jobs."
Kharasch said that Fitzgerald is presently working on establishing personnel guidelines for the board and finding permanent jobs for the 10 employes.
The three-person board, which is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, is responsible for establishing policy for the District's elections.
According to guidelines in the D.C. personnel manual, intermittent employes are limited to a 130-day work year. If an assignment is to run beyond that time, the employer must acquire a special exemption or reclassify the employes as temporary workers. Temporary workers are then entitled to benefits, such as annual leave and additional pay.
Fitzgerald said that the 10 intermittent employes have worked for the board from three to five years without having had a special exception, or reclassification as temporary employes.
Although they were employed well beyond the 130-day limit, she said they received a straight rate of $2.50 an hour - the present board wage for its intermittent employes.
"Some (employes classified as intermittents) have been working here continuously three to four years," said Fitzgerald.
She said the 10 intermittent employes were able to continue their jobs because the board is unable to carry out its day-to-day workload with only 33 employes, which is its staffing ceiling.
Between the Sept. 12 primary and the end of this year's mayoral and City Council elections, she said the board will have hired about 1,500 intermittent employes to help run the elections.
Most of them will work one or two days, she said.
Fitzgerald confirmed the personnel practice after a reporter inquired aboout longterm intermittent workers who said they received no benefits and were being paid 15 cents below the present minimum wage of $2.65 an hour.
Winfred Mundle, the board's general counsel, said he is now exploring the matter to see if the board can be penalized for not compensating the workers.
The D.C. Personnel manual defines intermittent employment as "occasional or irregular employment on programs, projects, or phrases thereof, requiring intermittent service."
The employer must maintain a "cumulative record of the days and hours" worked to make sure intermittents don't exceed the 130-workday limit, the manual continued. If the limit is exceeded without acquiring a special exception from the D.C. Personnel Office, "employment automatically ceases to be intermittent and becomes temporary," the manual said.
"I don't know who is responsible," said Mary Rodgers, who directs the employes that run the elections. Rogers said that she is not knowledgeable about the D.C. Personnel Office guidelines, and the board has no personnel regulations of its own.
Harrod said that his office has offered in the past to assist the D.C. Elections Board in developing a personnel policy contiguous with personnel practices followed by other city agencies. But the board is not obligated to follow D.C. Personnel Office recommendations or regulations.
"They (the 10 intermittents) could have been employed in such a manner so they could at least receive social security," said Harrod. "But I don't know anything under the existing rules and regulations that can be done for these people."
Mundle said he had told Kharash that intermittents were not receiving minimum wage shortly after the wage increase became effective in January.
Kharash said, "When we became aware (of the wage problem), we immediately asked Ms. Fitzgerald to correct it. We did it because we wanted to," she added.
Board records show that Fitzgerald, who took office in April, requested approval from the mayor's office in July to raise the intermittent wage to $2.65 an hour. Before then, records show that the non-specialized intermittents had not had a wage increase since 1973.The request is now awaiting approval.
The non-specialized intermittent workers perform a wide range of duties from general office work to stock room clerking. Many of the workers are young students or graduates who said they'll remain in the positions until they can find better jobs. However, most are unskilled, middle-aged, black women unable to find other jobs and afraid to lose the ones they have.
One of the intermittents, a middle-aged woman, said that "anyone would want more money. But I was living on it."
The workers said that the intermittent jobs were their only form of livelihood, and they didn't care about the wage or lack of benefits.
"My main concern was just to work," said one woman expressing the view held by the others.
"I've been here since 1964, and this is the first time I've heard of the 130-day limit," said Delores Woods, the deputy elections administrator who said she came up through the election office ranks from intermittent worker (poll captain) to administrator.
"I'm sorry it happened. All I knew of the intermittents was we call them in (or keep them on) when we need them."