NEON paychecks fall short for some

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A Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) employee expresses anger over not getting paid as promised on Friday for working the past three days.

NORWALK, Conn. – The glow of a “miracle” dimmed quickly for two Norwalk non-profit agency board members Friday when angry employees said that they weren’t being given paychecks, even though they had checks in hand.

The checks being given to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) workers were replacements for the paychecks that bounced 17 days ago. About 16 School Readiness program workers said they wanted to be paid for the three days they had just worked. They said they had come in to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on the condition they be paid on Friday. Those checks had not been issued due to what NEON Board Chairman Mike Berkoff described as a communications problem.

Some of the employees said they had been terminated. The checks should have included everything they were owed, they said.

Berkoff and Jack O’Dea were at NEON’s offices at 98 South Main St. at 4 p.m. to hand out paychecks to replace the worthless paychecks that were issued Nov. 5. These checks had pay stubs with a record of the hours worked on them, as opposed to the blank pay stubs issued Nov. 5.

Employees had to bring their bad checks to trade in.

“We’re swapping them out for new ones,” Berkoff said. “The people that never got checks, that are still here, we’re giving them fresh ones. There are a few checks that are floating. What we want to do is really make sure that nobody is telling us that they didn’t cash the check when they did. That’s why we’re asking to get our checks back.”

He referred to Cash-A-Check in South Norwalk, a business that cashed about $15,000 in employee paychecks only to have them returned due to insufficient funds, as a “gap” into which some checks had fallen.

Some employees had smiles on their faces as they left with checks in hand.

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Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now Board (NEON) member Jack O’Dea hoists Khilee Mack, 4, for a photo opportunity Friday.

“I feel great,” one employee said. “I’m going to skip out.”

“This is a miracle, believe me,” O’Dea said, about the availability of funds to finance the checks.

The bad stuff hit the fan shortly after that, as five to 10 people gathered around Berkoff to complain that they weren’t being paid for the three days on Friday, as promised.

“Let us get in touch with Rev. Jackson right now,” Berkoff said. “Let us see what the issue is.”

Joey Lynn, a School Readiness worker, said she had been terminated and would have been getting an unemployment check, but came in to work when asked only not to get paid on time.

“I want my real money, that I worked for,” Lynn said. “I could have stayed home.”

She has worked for the agency for 18 years, she said, since her daughter had gone to preschool with NEON, and now her granddaughter. Lynn said she was one of the employees who had stayed until 1 a.m. Nov. 5 to get a paycheck, only to find out later that morning that the paycheck was worthless.

“I’m dedicated to my job,” she said. “I love my job. But this is too much.”

Berkoff had left the room. He came back in with what he said was good news.

“I just spoke with the Rev. Jackson,” Berkoff said. “On Wednesday the checks for the people who worked these last three days will be available. We can pay out.”

“We are not coming back, we don’t get our paychecks today then the school will be closed on Monday,” Maritza Ortiz said.

“Then the school will be closed on Monday,” Berkoff said.

“See how easy it is for them to shut down the school?” one employee said.

Isn’t that misuse of funds, one employee asked.

No, Berkoff said.

“Well, I need my money,” she said.

The laid-off employees said they were owed personal time and vacation time. That money wasn’t in their checks. They were told to come back in two weeks for additional checks.

One employee said she had been with NEON for 13 years, only to get a letter of termination in the mail. That was cold and impersonal, she said.

“I’m not going back and forth,” she said, refusing to return for another paycheck in two weeks. “You already terminated me. What’s the point?”

She said she lived in Norwalk, but the distance of returning was not the issue.

“If you are terminated you expect to get all your money, right?” she said.

Confronted in the hallway by employees a few minutes later, Berkoff said he had been in the governor’s office Friday and had met with state Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) Tuesday.

“I am spending all of my time on this and it wasn’t my doing,” he said.

He had an explanation for the snafu.

“The payroll records were never transmitted over this morning in time to cut the checks,” he said.

Transmitting the information was the responsibility of the School Readiness manager, Berkoff said. She was coming over to talk to the employees, he said.

She did, indeed, show up, but refused to talk to the press. Employees had a closed-door meeting.

Berkoff said by phone later that the situation had been worked out. The School Readiness program will be open Monday through Friday, he said.


21 responses to “NEON paychecks fall short for some”

  1. amazed

    If the School Readiness manager can’t process payroll records in a timely manner how can we expect her to run the program in an approperate manner.
    Why didn’t she advise the staff that the time records were not processed rather than allow the staff to leave their classrooms expecting a check that she knew the were not going to receive.

  2. Casey Smith

    If this situation wasn’t so sad, I’d be posting one of Laurel and Hardy’s signature lines about “another fine mess”.

  3. Simmie

    I have never heard of terminated employees crawling up the boss … to get paid. Considering the last paycheck is usually mailed. What a mentality!

    Unfortunately for these entitled employees, noone explained to them the benefits of opening up your very own checking account. Then if you really wanna be 21st century chic, hook-up with ‘direct deposit’.

    (This comment has been edited for language.)

  4. bamboozeled

    @ Simmie….The direct deposit was cancelled by employees at the employer’s request. They didn’t have the capacity to continue using or paying for that service. Employees account’s were overdrawn due to payroll not being deposited into the accounts since the first occurrence of delayed checks in October.

  5. WHAT?

    I told you, Berkoff and O’Dea (see my posts below Mark Chapman’s editorial yesterday). When are people going to start demanding answers from the one person standing in the middle of this every time: Jack O’Dea.

  6. Oldtimer

    Could paying people who work for you really be that complicated ? There are small businesses that manage to pay their employees on time every week without paying a contractor to print the checks.

  7. EastNorwalkChick

    In this day and age with computerized payroll and banking, they should have been able to cut correct payroll checks for those employees who were terminated. Then use online banking to determine which checks were cashed and which weren’t.
    Wonder if any of these checks are going to bounce….I have prepared payroll for 30 yrs., manually and via a Payroll Service, never in my life have I seen such a mess. Who the heck is their bookkeeper? Really, it’s not that hard…

  8. “The laid-off employees said they were owed personal time and vacation time.”
    WOW, what a gig – just like the unions. Start there young enough and pad the nest like the union guys. These employees wouldn’t last in the real world where padding the retirement nest egg off the public would not be tolerated. In the real world, personal, vacation and sick days are use it or lose it. But government employees and unions are coddled like babies.
    These people should NOT be paid or even promised any money until there is an investigation that these people are ACTUALLY owed the money. People can say all they want but it must be on the record (and so far, NEON sucks at everything red tape for above board actions).
    Then for Berkoff to say about the snafu that he was “spending all of my time on this and it wasn’t my doing,” and then to go on and actually direct the blame at someone else on the same team is just so incredibly unprofessional, unacceptable and offensive it boggles my mind!!! He is one of the leaders and to the public and should be absorbing everything now that he signed on to it. My god, doesn’t he understand that to be the boss you give the glory to your employees who make you shine and take the bs because you are in authority.
    As for ANOTHER closed door meeting about finances and not talking to the press – seems like NEON knows how to play the press and the public like a fiddle.
    Keep everything a secret because it might shine negatively on you and then release info when you want the masses to rise up and support you.
    Hey NEON, play on maestro.

  9. TG

    @Irishgirl- There is absolutely nothing wrong with expecting to be paid for your vacation time and personal time. Some of these employees have been with NEON for many years. Workers are entitled to time off. The fact that they planned responsibly when to use it, the fact that heretofore, they’ve been showing up to work, that they weren’t rushing to use it or lose it, show that they were more concerned about being at their jobs rather than being off. How could they have predicted that they would suddenly be terminated? In the real world, you typically have two weeks notice, or even severance pay, and other benefits when laid off. Why does that make you so angry?

  10. Why do you assume I’m angry? Are you just taking your cue from someone else? Are you reading into it too much?
    Just sick and tired of working for people who use and abuse the system (and please don’t think all the employees are not without sin that they haven’t once dipped into something that wasn’t kosher. Being in a government agency just leaves you open with soooo many choices and the unions, ah well, ya know. No need to get on that soap box.
    But what I’m saying is that these people should not have expected – nor should someone promise or committ to expenditures without top senior authority sign off. No one is in any position to give their word without verification and authorization – and in writing – mandatory. That should have been a no brainer but reading what is going on down there, I feel it is prudent to make that comment.
    As for the real world, if there is no money there is no money and you close up shop and the owners get jail time. I guess THEY don’t live in the real world, do they?

  11. M Allen

    Re: accrued time off – those employees who lost their job are entitled to any vacation time they have accrued. However, unless they have a specific contract or the employee handbook stated otherwise, they are not entitled to compensation for untaken sick time, personal days or severance pay.

  12. TG

    @M Allen, you are correct in the legalities of the situation regarding compensation, and I don’t know whether they did or didn’t have that option. However, my point to Irishgirl is, her negative take on their asking for or even expecting compensation is unjustified on many levels, which I will address to her.

    Irishgirl, my initial response to several of your posts spread amingany threads is horrified. I don’t assume that you are angry. there is a tone that comes through in your writing that frequently falls on the anger spectrum, from mild frustration to all out fed up. Some I can understand, some i cannot, but that’s okay, that’s opinions. But since you asked, it is that tone that makes me presume anger. But in answering that question, it sort of leads me into the next part. I really don’t know you. In spite of the tone of your comments, in real life, you could likely be a very calm and compassionate person that just uses these boards to vent.

    And so here is where I would be wrong: should I make opinions on your character based on just these comments? Should I then take it a step further and say these are the actions/opinions of all conservatives/republicans (of which I happen to be one- conservative, but independent)? Or of all Irish people? It seems that maybe, in your frustration over this NEON debacle, and over our country’s current leanings towards promoting government dependency (totally on the same page with you there), you are painting a lot of people with the same broad brush. For example, you cite the notion that i shouldn’t assume that all these employees are without sin, that they haven’t dipped into something. Of course, there are some! But I will not categorize all of them because of that. The employees were collateral damage, even direct victims of the sham and debacle that was NEON’s management. I hardly think any of them were padding their retirements on the salary they got at NEON. The fact that they want compensation for unused days does not make them “takers”. It shows they worked. They were committed to showing up for their jobs and are very understandably (IMO) upset that they were suddenly without one. Add to that the fact that they could have taken a paid vacation during that time and I’d be looking for compensation too. As people who see that the government can magically produce money when they need it, I’d also want them to figure out how to compensate me for the work I legitimately put in.

    It is these working people, Irishgirl, that we should WANT to support. They’re not living off the public dole, they earned it. In another thread you essentially accused the families of Head Start/NEON kids of just living of just stealing taxpayer money. And yes, I am CERTAIN that there are a number of families who send their kids off to NEON and do not much more. But the truth is, Fairfield County is an expensive place to live, and we have a lot of working poor. Given the choice between providing affordable childcare, with some taxpayer contribution, and helping these families provide for themselves, or forcing them to stay home because they can’t afford childcare, (and then supporting them completely), I choose the former.

    I just think it is very important to separate the people from the system. Our system, in many ways, is broken, and encourages government dependency. Whenever I see people working to try to provide for themselves and their families (and often for others in society as well) I am all for doing what it takes to help make that happen.

    And the truth still remains that in the private sector, employees have very much come to expect to be treated fairly during a layoff. At the very least two weeks notice, but as I said, higher ups have EXPECTATIONS of severance packages. Do you think those people are wrong?

    If you’ve stayed with me this long, thank you for tolerating the length. I fear I will be known on NON as the wordy (but hopefully civil) responder. I’m not a sound bite kind of person. And I hope there is nothing intended offensively- it’s certainly not intended.

  13. TG

    Amingany=among many

  14. Just Wondering

    @Irishgirl do you secretly work at NEON???? Because you sure do have a lot to say about this company and seem like you know exactly what’s going on. Every time someone post a comment you attack right back with YOUR so called facts.

  15. M Allen

    @TG – no worries. I was just responding in general regarding severance benefits. Somewhat to Irishgirl, but more just in general. And no worries, I’m typically way longer than you in my responses. On par with my buddy Mushak but way more often than even he does. Snapshot responses don’t really work for me either. Too often they are taken out of context because people have a hard time reading between line; so I try and fill in the lines.
    And you nailed it on Irishgirl. Sorry Irish, any underlying message you’re trying to convey is often lost in the broad-brush comments that oftentimes vilify anyone and everyone related to NEON or government support in general. TG is right. We need to focus on the people who have committed wrongdoing, not the employees. And certainly not the working poor. I want people to work even if they are forced to take advantage of subsidized services. They are at least showing effort. These are the people who should be at the front of the line for support and should not be denounced by lumping them in with those who are only on the take side of the ledger. So maybe ease up a little. We need more conservative voices to speak up. But if it’s going to sound like right-wing fringe zealotry then it is likely to get a similar response from me as does left-wing lunacy: ignored or rebutted. But hey, that’s just my dopey opinion.

  16. Just Wondering

    @TG and M Allen couldn’t have said it any better, on that note I agree 100% with everything you both expressed. Thank You

  17. The Norwalker

    Has there been any more talk about criminal charges for NEON Senior Management?

    Several of the State Programs that were taken away from NEON where viable programs. On paper these programs had surpluses or were breaking even. The reason that the State Agencies took the programs from NEON is that the Management could not deliver the funds to the designated programs, the money went elsewhere.

  18. @ TG, MAllen and Just Wondering,
    So far you both are so far off the mark, it’s not even worth responding.
    Whether or not you like my posts, I don’t really care. Just skip them if they are always filled with animosity.
    NOTE to TG “animosity = a feeling of hostility.”

  19. M Allen

    The easiest way to get that kind of investigation going would be for an insider with some kind of knowledge to lodge a complaint. But even in the absence of a whistleblower, one of those federal or state agencies should have the authority or pull to get an investigation initiated. But an investigation needs to happen. Anyone know who is funding those yellow condos down a couple blocks further down South Main? I heard Chiquita was involved.

  20. The Norwalker

    What is ironic is that this organization, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has almost always been located in Norwalk. I am sure that this Organization would have helped NEON.

    Just looking at the FASB Website would have reminded NEON Management about what to do.


  21. Don’t Panic

    Nice reminder Norwalker!

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