A formal grievance filed by the Town of Malta highway union accuses the highway superintendent of handing out overtime preferentially and putting employees in unsafe situations.
The grievance, which was examined by the Town Board on Monday, July 6, says the department violated a collective bargaining agreement by assigning overtime outside of the agreed-upon basis of seniority and also failing to assign flagmen to at least one overtime call that involved a lane closure.
The union cites an alleged June 7 incident in which Highway Department Superintendent Tom Adriance tapped Working Supervisor Peter Ostrander to repair road damage on East High Street.
According to the highway union, this was the fifth or sixth time in a row Ostrander had been sent out on overtime. In addition, the union contends that two flagmen and another worker should have been sent along to direct traffic and help, as the job required a lane closure on the two-lane road.
As far as the union’s concerned, we’re just in it to make the place safer to work, said Gary Osterhout, shop steward at the highway department.
Adriance contends that the worker was indeed safe, as he was working behind a department truck with its hazard lights activated. He also said that he has properly utilized a rotational list in assigning overtime work. When a worker cannot be contacted or cannot fill the overtime job, he moves on to the next name until the list cycles back around.
`I am in full compliance with the contract,` said Adriance. `There’s no justification in the grievance.`
The grievance and the department’s response was read and discussed by the Town Board in open session. Town Attorney Thomas Peterson explained to the board that it had the right to discuss the matter in executive session or to air the matter publicly. Three board members ` Sue Nolen, Tara Thomas and Gerald Winters ` said they would like to keep the meeting open, while Peter Klotz said he would prefer to enter executive session. Supervisor Paul Sausville did not express an opinion.
On Tuesday, Paul Engel, agent with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 294, who represents the highway union, said that he found Adriance’s explanation of overtime assignment reasonable, but has no way of knowing if it’s true.
`They claimed last night that they were using the rotational list that they’re supposed to use. I have employees telling me they’re not using it,` he said. `I don’t know who is telling me the truth.`
As a representative of the union workers, Engel said, he will pursue the grievance until an adequate answer is found.
`It’s a new agreement. We understand there’s going to be bumps in the road. But if after several attempts [at discussion] doesn’t work, you have to take it through the process` he added.
Engel questioned the legality of sending Ostrander out to the job alone, but when asked, he did not produce a law about flagmen. A representative for the state Department of Transportation said that there are safety guidelines that state workers and contractors must follow, but was unsure if such rules would be applicable to Malta workers and whether it would be a legal matter.
Nolen said that if the highway department is operating within the law, the town shouldn’t increase costs by changing its procedures.
`A lot of these grievances are actually retaliation, and it’s very frustrating,` she said.
On overtime, highway department workers earn time-and-a-half, with a minimum of two hours of compensation guaranteed for an overtime call. Excluding an administrative assistant, Ostrander and Adriance, all department workers are members of the union.
Osterhout argued that sending more workers out on a job is a necessary price for safety.
`The whole bill for this call in would have been $250 if it was done right,` he said. `Are you going to put somebody out in the road to get run over for $250?`
The Town Board requested copies of the overtime rotational list and a review of law pertaining to the use of flagmen in work zones. The issued is slated to be revisited at the next Town Board meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 3.“