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April 22, 2011

48

Part 2 of Special Report: The mayor’s office gets involved, but problems persist

by Deena Winter

PART TWO IN A SERIES OF STORIES
BY DEENA WINTER

Word of the war going on in the streets department had made its way to the mayor’s office by 2009.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Rick Hoppe, met with dozens of street employees to talk about their concerns twice in 2009. First, he came alone. A couple weeks later, he brought along the city’s personnel director, Mark Koller.

“We’re here to learn,” Koller says on a tape recording of the meeting.

Employees told them story after story about harassment, hijinks and cliques that govern the streets division. A tidal wave of angry anecdotes and sad stories poured out in the Labor Temple – again.

A new employee described how he was screamed at, berated and belittled by supervisor Doug Hanson. The attorney for the union that represents the blue collar workers, Gary Young, said multiple employees say Hanson targets, intimidates and berates employees. One employee said Hanson pulled out a butterfly knife and began to spin it in front of an employee who came to his office asking for vacation time, Young said. One man underwent a long period of personal abuse by Hanson and his “crew” and reportedly lost 60 pounds from the stress of working on the crew, Young said.

That man told his story to Koller and Hoppe at the Labor Temple that day. He said he was not trained or told what to do and was left at work sites or in shops without instruction about two dozen times.

“I’m scared to death of my job,” he told them.

Other employees said the harassers would take tools away from them and tell them to sit in a truck – to set them up to get in trouble for not working.

Koller and Hoppe were also told about how members of this ruling “family” routinely hire friends and neighbors and bowling partners and surround themselves with allies who back them up, spy on employees for them and socialize together after hours.

There are a lot of connections between employees, most prominent among them: Asphalt crew worker Gary Weger is married to account clerk Iris Weger and District Supervisor Leroy Uglow lives with boss Scott Opfer’s secretary. And public works director Greg MacLean’s executive secretary is married to Kelly Sieckmeyer, who works in traffic operations and is a good friend of Opfer’s.

Employees says “the family” shares information about employees and makes it impossible for grievances to go anywhere without everybody finding out right away. After hearing about it at the Labor Temple, the personnel director said, “It sounds to me like Doug’s damn near hired everybody in this city… it goes deeper than I wanna admit,” Koller said. “If it’s that way, then by golly something needs to be changed.”

But Koller made no promises, saying he was only hearing one side of the story and it would take time to address the problems.

At the end of the meeting, Hoppe said there were “fairly serious things going on here” and promised to have weekly meetings with union president Jeff Stump and the union’s attorney to work on the issues they raised.

“Stay with us. Don’t lose faith,” Hoppe told the laborers. “We’re gonna try to make things right and do what we can to try and make it better.”

Weekly meetings between Young, Stump and Hoppe went on for awhile, but during one, Hoppe said the mayor’s office had taken some steps (like getting safety glasses for employees, as their contract allowed) and now it needed the union to take some steps in return — by making sure employees responded when called for snow removal. The atmosphere had gotten so bad that some men weren’t too eager to answer the call to work overtime.

Jeff Stump heads up the employee union trying to fix the streets division.

But later, Hoppe told Stump that in exchange for fixing the employee abuses, he wanted the union to agree to reduce their retirement match, as the mayor had long been pushing tall unions to do. Stump refused — he didn’t think it appropriate that a union be asked to make contract concessions in order to get the mayor’s office to clean up the rampant employee bullying and other abuse in a city department.

I asked Hoppe about that on Thursday, and initially he said he never made his help conditional on the union agreeing to a less generous retirement benefit, but later he called back to say, “I did probably make the connection between getting 9-7 (a lower retirement match) and other contract issues” but only because he’d helped the union heads get new boots and safety goggles, which was in their labor agreement. In other words, both were union issues.

Hoppe said all of the laborers’ allegations were looked into, but many were years-old stories and many couldn’t be verified. He did get the man who was being harassed moved to another job, and he noted that Null was fired for showing the sex tape. And although he’d told the employees that some of the issues – such as the married people and lovers working in the same division – would be a “layup” to fix, it wasn’t as easy as he thought, because “the other people involved have union rights” too.

“I can’t just fire someone,” Hoppe said.

In June 2010, Stump said Hoppe called him to his office to talk about a possible ordinance banning married couples and live-in lovers from working in the same division – something the employees wanted.

“He looked at me and said the law department is too busy to draft that ordinance and if you want us to get rid of Opfer and take care of other supervisors, you’re gonna have to take the 9 to 7 match (lower retirement benefits),” Stump said.

“I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘No,’ ” Stump said.

He said that’s part of the reason his union decided to fight the city on the retirement issue. His union was the only union that held out on the retirement issue, and won.

But they paid a price. Talks with the mayor’s office were dead.

“It seemed like they empowered Opfer to treat us even worse,” Stump said.

The mayor’s office directed most questions to the personnel director, Mark Koller, who told me Thursday that the streets division has “far and away” the most problems of any city department. He said he’s concerned about the relationships between laborers and supervisors in the streets division.

Personnel Director Mark Koller

“I’m pretty confident that when we get an issue, we do an investigation. If there’s nothing of substance, we don’t issue a report or a disciplinary action, we just say there’s no substance to this particular issue,” Koller said. “And that’s not always well received. People want immediate satistifaction and quite honestly, that’s not always available. We just can’t go in there with a heavy handed attitude and say, ‘You’re fired, you’re gone.’ Quite honestly, you get a whole lot of strikes at the plate before you’re out.”

And while Koller seemed empathetic to the workers at the Labor Temple, he now seems to have taken the managers’ side, saying he said he thinks the laborers have “more vendetta” and live in a “gotcha environment.”
“More often than not, when we do an investigation, we don’t find anything of substance – we find a lot of accusations, whining, personal situations.”

I asked Koller how employees can prove an incident happened when it’s a “he said, she said” situation?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know the answer. When we can substantiate them, that’s when we’ll take action. If three guys say it happened – is that enough? When an accusation comes in, they all sound alike. It could be scripted. I’m all for finding out (but) when the stories sound so much alike, it sort of makes you wonder, is there a setup going on? To get rid of people.”

He said he still believes there are enough honest supervisors who would say if they saw improper things happening.

Koller said he’s tried to get union representatives of both sides – the managers belong to another union – to sit down and try to work out their problems, but he said the blue-collar union refused.

“I wish I could just gather them all in a room and say ‘Why can’t we all play nice?’ ” Koller said. “It’s really getting to be a shouting match of no substance. I’m trying to figure our way out of the bag. I don’t have a good answer.”

As for the married couples and personal relationships that are rampant in the division, he said if he moved employees around, he’d be accused of retaliation.

“It’s not happy,” he said. “It’s not a happy place. But I’m not ignoring it.”

To read the first story in this series, click here.
Tomorrow: Scott Opfer runs the place — what does he say?

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48 Comments Post a comment
  1. coach
    Apr 22 2011

    Wow! After listening to Mark Koller’s statement it really sums it up where this guy stands. It is obvious that Mark Koller is not a neutral party looking at the facts and making the correct determination.I smell law suites! Get your checkbooks out tax payers!!

    Reply
  2. coach
    Apr 22 2011

    Sorry, lawsuits.

    Reply
  3. snake plissken
    Apr 22 2011

    I keep hearing crime rate is down in Lincoln under beutler’s administration. It sounds like to me all the crime moved to street maintenance. I also hear that Lincoln is one of the best places to live and work. Ya,right! It sounds like its time for change in management and street maintenance. I also have to agree with coach, man-up Koller and do your job!

    Reply
  4. YouGlow
    Apr 22 2011

    It should be obvious from what Mark had to say that you blue collar workers have no real chance, that we have the deck stacked in our favor.Theres no way you can win……look at what happened to the guy that bucked us so hard!

    Reply
    • real world%%%
      Apr 22 2011

      well leroy why dont we talk about you problems at the city

      Reply
  5. Jane H Kinsey
    Apr 22 2011

    Deena,
    This ought to be published before the election. Hoppe can’t ask
    that a grievance be settled by a salary dispute. He is way out of
    line. Koller is also for not looking into this thoroughly.

    Reply
    • real world%%%
      Apr 22 2011

      thank you Jane get the word out for others to read this

      Reply
    • porcupine
      Apr 22 2011

      It almost sounds like if you file a grievance you’ll get fired.

      Reply
  6. porcupine
    Apr 22 2011

    If you don’t know the answers and don’t know how to find a way to work this out you should not have the job! Lets see you with held SAFTY glasses when they were contracted to receive them in order to brake them down and give into your retirement demands! Sounds like you violated a contract and Jeopardized there SAFTY to try and get your way. Then you try to blame it on two different unions as a tax payer I am ashamed of your work and of the City’s handling of it..No wander people are getting killed on the job.To top it off you offer up a hypothetical situation as an excuse to do nothing. IF IF IF do your job.

    Reply
  7. Batman
    Apr 22 2011

    If this u-glo character is in charge of n/e dist is obvious to see why there so much divison in st main. What low integrity to rant & rave instead of tring to bring the department to a resolution. From the views in your txt’s your personal life is probaly a reflection of how u conduct your shop a complete mess. God bless those poor souls @ n/e dist that have to work around someone of that nature!!

    Reply
    • Apr 22 2011

      All of Beutler’s signs seem to have disappeared from my neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s the wind wind blowing them away or all the hot air coming from the mayors office.

      Reply
    • Iris
      Apr 23 2011

      YouGlow is not whom they seem to be. It is someone impersonating LeRoy to turn public opinion against him because they are not capable of using their big boy voices and must hide behind disguises to bring down those in which they cannot control.

      Reply
  8. YouGlow
    Apr 22 2011

    Mark is doing the best job he can with what he has to work with.
    They didnt have the special needs programs they have now when he was attending school. Hes truly come a long way and should be commended for all his hard work.: )

    As for my personal life Bateman,youd be a little sour to if you went home to that.Please lets not go there on these blogs.

    Reply
    • real world%%%
      Apr 22 2011

      leroy you need to let angie check you spelling

      Reply
  9. BennyParry
    Apr 22 2011

    Are you serious…Why is it that the person that was fired is just now “talking”? We have bigger issues that the city/state needs to worry about instead of a “scorned” former employee crying wolf and it is being entertained???? Our society has come to the sad way it is now because of stupid stuff like this and someone posting it as if it was real news. Grow up and do your job instead of trying to make a fast buck by suing someone seriously!!!!!

    Reply
    • real world%%%
      Apr 22 2011

      no one is suing anyone we need the people to listen to us we have been talking to the mayors office for 3 years about the issues and someone even died and the city still did nothing to the management responsible

      Reply
      • BennyParry
        Apr 23 2011

        First off the person that died was actually in an area that he wasn’t suppose to be (not to blame him but has nothing to do with this issue) so why are you trying to make this an issue…to help your cause???? Second, there is a law suit being filled people get fired all the time for not doing their job and then they come back and do stuff like this and I am personally sick of it. It is my tax dollar and all the tax payers in Nebraska that has to be used for this stuff that ends up being total unfounded. Just get over it and do what you are suppose to do instead of wasting our tax dollars on stupid stuff…PLEASE!!!

    • porcupine
      Apr 22 2011

      If your civil rights are violated and you can’t get due process, the next step is to sue.

      Reply
      • real world%%%
        Apr 22 2011

        we sue but just to get the job back for the fired employee a process is in place but they drag things till people give up and move on but when you fight for your rights you a painted out to be the bad guy like the employee that died on the job the grievance was started in sept. 2010 and they are still dragging it out

      • Iris
        Apr 23 2011

        What civil rights were voilated?

      • Iris
        Apr 23 2011

        Mr. Real World, last time I checked he RESIGNED. He wasn’t fired.

      • porcupine
        Apr 24 2011

        Is it your business to check this?? You just verify what they are saying good move.

      • YouGlow
        Apr 24 2011

        Iris,you couldnt get any further up managements azz if you used a shoe horn!lol

  10. YouGlow
    Apr 22 2011

    Sorry, I ment to type “Baitman”!

    Reply
  11. YouGlow
    Apr 22 2011

    The city is not going to investigate itself,thats what makes being in management so attractive you fool.

    We can do favors for the people that suck up to us and screw the people that try to buck us and never be accountable for anything…….its beautiful!

    Reply
  12. snake plissken
    Apr 22 2011

    Mayor Beutler or mayor Buffington, from the looks of these stories and seeing there is more to come tells me that there are some big problems that need serious attention! What concerns me is that the personnel directer has no idea how to deal with these issues, according to the article. If these issues were brought to personnel and the administrations attention two years ago and were ignored, it leads me to believe it was intentional or incompetence. Any way you look at it, it is wrong! What i have learned over the years is if you ignore a problem it has a tendency to get worse. A team is only going to be as good as they are coached! You can’t put a team on the field and ever expect them to succeed if the coaches don’t know how to coach. I think it’s time for a new coaching staff.

    Reply
    • gary
      Apr 23 2011

      Well from what i read the unions had a chance to meet and the employees said no. why is that i mean really if it is so bad why not take every opportunity to fix the problem?

      Reply
    • porcupine
      Apr 25 2011

      Yes’ the university had Bill Callahan and Steve Pederson and the city has Bub Edwards and Scott 0 pfer. We all seen how the university took care of their problems.

      Reply
  13. Grace
    Apr 22 2011

    Dear Lord, if even half of these allegations are true, It sounds like a terrible situation. Some even seem to border on criminal. Let us all hope for the ones that are being harassed that this is resolved, and resolved promptly, and those responsible are held accountable.

    Reply
  14. YouGlow
    Apr 22 2011

    I guess you can do what you want on your own time stub. but I would watch it if I were you.: (

    Reply
  15. red ice
    Apr 22 2011

    it shows that managment will always win if you dont have enough people come forward you loose if have to many people come forward you loose sounds like a loose loose situation for the workers and BIG FAT WIN FOR MANAGMENT how the hell does that work sounds like the workers have a better shot at hitting the lottery and thats like 1,986,789 to 1 chance seems like there odds are better that way

    Reply
    • Iris
      Apr 23 2011

      PUNCTUATION, please.

      Reply
  16. Harrison
    Apr 23 2011

    Come on people lets use our real names and not hide behind made up ones. Yes this is me.

    Reply
  17. Harrison
    Apr 23 2011

    This is my point. Guys at the shop were called a bunch of “cowards” and yet here we have someone hiding behind a false screen name trying to make a manager look bad. The majority of us are all uneducated according to this blog, but I know the real Uglow wouldn’t ever make a comment like this. Who are the real cowards here?

    Reply
    • YouGlow
      Apr 23 2011

      Yeah,and I bet your not really “in the middle of it” are you?
      You will be the next one to go if you continue with the attitude,so get off the train tracks sunny boy before you get de-railed like Roger did.

      Reply
    • gary
      Apr 23 2011

      Well YouGlow I think that harrison hit nail on the head. I know that the real Uglow would never make comment like that. So once again I will point out that the “higher educated” have graced us with their wisdumb. Yes i spelled it wrong for a reason. Roger didn’ t de railed he resigned by not calling in correctly for 5 days in a row. a fact that he admitted to in artical.

      Reply
  18. tyler
    Apr 23 2011

    Anything short of mass firings in the management of the street division will not be enough. Mayor Beutler is a lapdog for the business community and he could care less about the average worker. His lack of action regarding the street division is immoral and he is one of the lowest forms of mankind.

    Reply
    • porcupine
      Apr 23 2011

      It shows one”s character or the lack of it.

      Reply
  19. Roger C
    Apr 23 2011

    I haven’t seen this entertaining of a troll in a long time! Funny!

    Reply
  20. BennyParry
    Apr 23 2011

    Wow, according to these comments it leads one to believe you all work for the city and don’t see eye to eye. Here is a suggestion why don’t you work in the public sector where you can’t stand behind the union with all your lies…a guy should lose his job after “calling” in without leaving his name…really who does this??? Tax dollars being wasted once again for foulishness just grow up!!!

    Reply
  21. red ice
    Apr 23 2011

    the whole thing about this is managment new it was roger calling in they had caller id they could have called and said something to him just like they have there friend so it sounds pretty cut and dry the rail roaded him out of there they have there buddies showing up to work late nothing done about that what should be done about that these problems have gone on for years and nobody wants to address it so now its time for it all to come and for all you new guys that dont know what the hell talking about you check your information before you go running off at the mouth

    Reply
    • gary
      Apr 23 2011

      How would you know if nothings been done. That would be personal information any way. It’s not managements job to call him it’s his to call in, leave his name and what type of leave he was using. He admitted to the message he left, so what facts are you talking about?

      Reply
  22. Iris
    Apr 23 2011

    Hiding behind your screen name just goes to show who the real “bullies” are in this situation. If you’re going to drag people through the mud, man up and reveal who you really are. For all reading this I am Iris Weger mentioned in the article and I am married to Crew Leader Gary Weger, but what they failed to mention is I am not Street Maintenance. I am Fleet Services and I work in the Street’s Office as we are located in the same building. I DO NOT have access to any kind of personnel information, so you might as well hop off of that wagon right now.

    As for the uneducated comments, I have 2 degrees and Gary is enrolled in school for Civil Engineering. All the individual in the front office have degrees and are very experienced in their jobs.

    You wanna get down to it, Albert Einstein never graduated highschool. Do we throw out his contributions to society based on this fact.

    Angie never abandoned her family. For one, get your facts straight and second off stay out of peoples personal lives.

    I reiterate, if you are gonna be so crude and hateful, man up and show yourself. Unless you would rather be the bully on this playground you have created. This being the case, I will pull from my husband’s pool of knowledge and literary genius he blessed us with in a post on the previous article;
    “I rubber, you’re glue. What you say bounces off me and sticks to you”!

    Reply
    • YouGlow
      Apr 24 2011

      I didnt realize you could get degrees in boot licking and azz kissing but you obviously learned well Iris!: )

      Reply
  23. Batman
    Apr 23 2011

    Gary why dont u jst shut ur mouth you’ve abused more rules than anybody dwn there but some how u wessel ur way arnd typical of the double standards that persist @ n/e dist jst stick to what u know which is very little & beg ur supervisor’s advane the cheap way instead of earning ur keep ya hump!!!

    Reply
    • gary
      Apr 24 2011

      what rules is it that I have abused? It’s clear you don’t have a clue what i do. I don’t have to shut my mouth you like to talk about how bad management bullies people but some people were herassed and bullied by Roger.

      Reply
  24. Harrison
    Apr 23 2011

    Well Iris I do feel like I’m grade school sometimes so I guess that saying would be acurate.

    Reply
  25. YouGlow
    Apr 24 2011

    Those that are not sucked up tight to managements azz (like you and Gary) must use a screen name to avoid being retaliated against when you stand up for whats right and tell the truth.

    My screen name happens to be YouGlow,you are the one that assumed I was LeRoy……guess the joke is on you!lol

    Reply

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