County Clamps Down on Coffee "Klatches"

April 18, 2003 ( - If workers in Orange County, New York, want to take a coffee break, they'll have to do it on their own time.

Orange County Executive Edward Diana has decreed that some 2,500 county employees shall no longer be entitled to coffee breaks on county time. Of course, like many other municipalities, the county is dealing with a projected $7.5 million budget gap next year, and by eliminating the breaks, Diana says he can help narrow the gap.

By way of illustration, Diana cites paid time for coffee breaks in the county’s largest departments, which employ 1,395 workers. If each worker takes those two breaks a day, you’ve got 698 lost work hours in those three agencies alone…or the equivalent of 87 more employees on the job per day.

As it turns out, neither state law nor union contracts require the county to provide its employees with the “traditional” two paid 15-minute daily breaks. The county is only required by law to provide a 30-minute meal break for employees who work at least six consecutive hours.

Fuzzy Math

However, “That’s fuzzy math,” said Glenn Blackman, chief negotiator for the Civil Service Employees Association in Poughkeepsie, the union representing county workers that has filed grievances about the policy change. “That kind of arithmetic might work if you’re producing widgets and the assembly line shuts down when everyone goes on break,” Blackman added, according to the Middletown, New York Times Herald-Record. “Orange County isn’t going to shut down. The work gets done.”

However, it’s not as though the county doesn’t recognize the need for certain breaks during the day. The new policy doesn’t affect smoking breaks or bathroom trips – work “respites,” which at least tend to be more solitary endeavors.