Two Union Presidents Scourge Work Environments

Updated 5 years ago by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter

Two union presidents took the gloves off during the Public Works mayoral transition meeting.

Danny Plybon, Local 598 president of the AFSCME union which has not had a contract since the end of 2008, told the committee members, “Our morale has been kicked in the teeth. [and] you can see the infrastructure around the city is starting to crumble.” At one time the union had over 300 workers for the city, but is now down to 72, Plybon said.

He accused the Wolfe Administration of “union busting tactics,” but stopped short of directly attributing those actions to the Mayor. “He put too much faith in his administration [and] they failed him,” Plybon said. During that time he said union representatives have had “no communication” with the administration. “We have to come to a public place to be heard.”

Due to the lack of a contract (city council voted down the last one in 2008 which had been negotiated during the Felinton administration), workers have issues ranging from health and safety down to clothing allowances. These have been complicated by the imposition of a merit system “which took away our bumping and bidding rights,” Plybon said.

The Local 598 president made a case for less contracting out of services from demolition , tree cutting or catch basin work. “We could tear down four houses for every two” at prevailing rates and “catch basin work could be in house. We need to clean more streets, fix more sidewalks, and cut more trees” but we cannot do those tasks as effectively due to the reduced staffing, suggesting a need for less supervisors and more working foreman in the eleven departments of which AFSCME has members.

Martin Shelton, president of Local 2531 which includes Huntington Sanitary Board employees, told that conditions “have progressively gotten worse… jeopardizing our safety… and we have been unable to get answers from our director.”

Shelton referred to an alleged continued culture of racism. He explained that after the Wayne Friday law suit was settled for about $200,000 --- about $100,000 of which came from the City of Huntington --- the individual accused of “hanging a noose” and asking an employee to “put his neck in it” was not fire, but promoted.

“The city turned a blind eye and allowed this promotion.”

Shelton added that “unrelenting” harassment has continued at the HSB. “Employees are told who they can talk to and who they cannot talk. I’ve never seen this type of intimidating environment. At one point, I had a fear for the safety of my family.”

Chris Mallory, an AFSCME executive council, verified that he had seen “first hand rights trampled upon. There has been no compromise to get a collective bargaining agreement. They have put us out with yesterday’s trash.”

When speaking Kit Anderson, Sanitary Board executive director, emphasized the board’s goal of an integrated planning solution which would bring together operations of the waste water utility and environmental sewer infrastructure upgrades, such as separation of storm water runoff from the current combined system.

“What makes the most sense … is to try to become an EPA model community. This is an opportunity where we can jump ahead,” Anderson explained.

Speaking of the union president’s statements alleging a racist culture and safety concerns (particularly asbestos in the sewer stations), Anderson called some  “unfounded. The [lawsuit] settlement said there is no admission of liability.”

Prior to the adjournment of the meeting, councilwoman Frances Jackson backed Shelton’s statements. “I don’t think Mr. Shelton lied about anything. I’ve had calls from just about everybody.”

Although Anderson called some allegations “unfounded,” not specifically “lies,” Shelton told the committee he would be happy to provide “documentation” for all statements that he made.




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