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Wakefield city workers sound off at work session

 

March 15, 2018

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

WAKEFIELD CITY employees address various concerns with Wakefield city council members during a Wednesday workshop in council chambers. Speaking is David Semenak, front row left, with co-worker Michael Grayson to his right.

By P.J. GLISSON

news@yourdailyglobe.com

Wakefield - A Wednesday workshop of the Wakefield city council opened doors to city employees who were asked to voice their concerns.

"We want to fix problems if there are any," said mayor pro tem Amy Tarro, standing in for mayor John Granato, on vacation.

A continuing issue is city workers' daily hours, which changed this from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and is now 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Mike Singleton, a heavy equipment operator with the city's department of public works for nearly two decades, disapproves of the change.

"DPW has never been 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for as long as I've been here," said Singleton.

"Part of the problem is the darkness," said council member Kay Wiita. "How can anyone do anything in the dark?"

"There's not a job that DPW does that can't be done in the dark," said Mike Sibley, a DPW foreman.

Wiita's response was all that workers will get for now because of a related grievance they have filed with their union.

"I can't say anything because you people filed a grievance," said council member Pat Mann. "I've been advised."

"I apologize that we can't answer that question," said Tarro, "but hopefully we can soon."

Employees also questioned the new city policy on allowing city vehicles to be fueled only during the last half hour of the work day unless permission is sought first from city manager Richard Brackney.

Sibley said that restricting fueling to the last half hour "will cause overtime when everybody's trying to fuel up at the same time."

Moreover, he also addressed members of the public who have complained about city workers lingering at the Holiday station during fueling stops.

Sibley said he can't go to places such as Holiday or a restaurant without local residents approaching him with questions and concerns.

Jim Tarro, DPW warehouse / timekeeper, questioned a work rule regarding workers accepting items of value or perceived buy-offs.

Tarro explained that salespersons visit and leave items such as hats, calendars and t-shirts. "Do we say we can't take that?" he asked.

Brackney said accepting those items is not an issue and that the city will clarify what constitutes too much value.

David Semenak, lineman / operator lead man in the electric department, said the public tells some of them that they make too much money, whereas he explained he doesn't set his own salary.

Meanwhile, said DPW mechanic Don Plonsky, workers could use a new shop. "The floor drains don't work," he said while citing several issues with the current shop.

Council member Mann said funding is the issue, but she and other council members agreed that the existing shop has issues to be addressed.

All in all, lineman Michael Grayson said all issues discussed have a cumulative effect on morale.

Speaking of all his coworkers, Grayson said, "These guys show up every day to do their jobs." He said they're "good, hard-working people" who feel "continually poked in the chest."

Bob Murphy, union representative for city workers, also questioned city work rules pertaining to discipline.

Murphy said some rules call for immediate discharge or discipline that may include discharge, whereas he cautioned that discipline should be layered.

The word origin of "discipline" relates to "disciple," said Murphy.

Hence, he added, "When you discipline employees, you want to do it in a progressive manner. You're not trying to harm them. You're trying to instruct them."

Brackney agreed that new city work rules should include spoken warnings, written warnings, and suspension, before discharge.

But he did note that it depends on the infraction.

Brackney said there's a difference between someone who accidentally goes home with a wrench in his pocket versus someone else who commits sabotage or engages in subversive activity. The latter actions, he said, are "certainly grounds for dismissal."

City workers also discussed an as yet pending issue regarding whether they should engage in water thawing or whether the city manager simply should hire a contractor for such work.

"I've already said I don't want to do it," said Brackney. "I'm not going to send a guy out to do something he's not been trained for, and that's part of my decision."

Council member Mann asked David Semenak, lead man in the city's electric department, when he and his guys had last engaged in thawing.

Semenak and lineman Michael Grayson said they hadn't done it since 2015. They said high voltage on the equipment used was difficult to control, and that the process could cause fire, flooding and pipe damage.

Although Brackney said he had only one request for thawing this year, Grayson said the city had 128 calls in the winter of 2015. "We were day and night working - going, going, going," he said.

Semenak, whose crew also includes lineman Josh Schneck, said, "I'm not complaining about having three people in utilities."

But Semenak stressed that when emergencies occur, time is of the essence and there's only so much that three guys can do.

Council members may hire a licensed electrician to augment city staff, but that possibility also raised questions.

"Just because you hire an electrician doesn't mean they're going to know anything about lift stations," said DPW foreman Mike Sibley.

"Some lift stations are special," added Jim Tarro, who works under Sibley.

The Michigan Municipal League suggests a fully insured plumbing contractor as a viable alternative to workers who lack training for specialized work.

Mayor pro tem Amy Tarro said her own view is that worker and site safety are paramount, along with "the cost to the city if something were to go south."

Brackney concluded that the council will have to make the best decision it can regarding the proposed hiring of a licensed electrician.

He added that previous and current councils have discussed thawing issues since 2015 without ever developing an official policy. The current council now must do it, he said.

Mann asked that employees be able to review revisions of worker rules before they are finalized.

Wiita suggested inviting workers' views more often.

 
 

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