Mayor’s office goes on air to respond to street workers’ allegationsThe mayor’s office took to the airwaves yesterday to give their side of the story, after KLIN’s “Drive Time Lincoln” devoted much of the previous day’s show to allegations by a city employee union that the city’s street maintenance division is riddled with bullying, infighting, threats and retaliation.
Winterized first broke this story on May 12.
The mayor’s chief of staff, Rick Hoppe, was interviewed on KLIN — and defended the administration’s handling of what he acknowledges is a troubled division.
Hoppe’s take on the situation was that laborers are also at fault, however, for engaging in one-upsmanship and “gotcha” games to try to get managers into trouble.
He said managers have complained that they’re targeted by employees who want to get rid of them, and he alleged ex-wives of managers have been approached by union representatives looking to get dirt on them.
“This has become a work environment that isn’t appropriate for either the managers or the employees,” Hoppe said.
He said the blue-collar workers often dredge up incidents that happened years ago – some before Mayor Chris Beutler took office – and the administration can’t do anything about those incidents now.
In addition, employees have protections guaranteed by union contracts, so Hoppe said he “can’t just go in there and start firing people” or “ordering people around.” He said he was disturbed by the insinuation that the mayor’s office hasn’t done anything about the problems, noting that a supervisor was fired for showing a sexually explicit video to coworkers and another employee was transferred after claiming he was being bullied.
And even though Hoppe says often city officials can’t substantiate laborers’ allegations, it appears they went to great lengths to refute some of their allegations. To wit: Two workers claimed they were punished for speaking out about the safety concerns with lawn mowers by being made to mow a huge compound with push mowers on a “blistering hot” day.
Hoppe said on KLIN that records indicate those mowers are routinely used to mow that area, and that the weather in September of 2008 never got above 77 degrees.
As for a new allegation of organized gambling in the streets division, Hoppe said Police Chief Tom Casady has invited any employee to come forward with specifics about it, and police will investigate. So far, nobody has come forward, Hoppe said.
And although Hoppe spent most of the interview refuting the blue-collar workers’ claims, he said “The truth usually falls somewhere in the middle.”
“It’s pretty clear that we’ve got some problems there that we have tried to address,” he said. “If people want to sit down, the administration is happy to do it, but people need to understand that not ever issue is retaliation.”
To hear the interview, click here for Part 1 and Part 2.
In other news revolving around this issue, the union that represents the laborers voted Thursday night to appeal the city’s denial of the grievance filed by 11 employees in the wake of the death of Eric Kohles, 37, last fall in a mowing accident. The grievance claimed the city had created an unsafe working environment for Kohles by assigning him to work on an unsafe mower without proper training and accused the city of maintaining “a working culture in which employees are discouraged from raising concerns about safety, are humiliated when raising such concerns, and are specifically retaliated against in a number of ways when raising such concerns.”
The grievance sought to have several managers removed from supervision duties.
After a police investigation into those allegations was inconclusive, the Public Association of Government Employees – a union that represents about 500 city employees – voted to appeal the issue to the city’s personnel board.
“We’ve got a bunch of legal action coming against the city so we’ll find out who’s right and who’s wrong,” PAGE President Jeff Stump told me today.