Public works employees demanded better pay and better treatment during the Mobile City Council meeting Tuesday.
Wesley Young, a retired public works employee and president of the City of Mobile Public Services Workers advocacy group, told councilors of alleged harassment by a supervisor of workers within the department. He said a group of 13 employees brought those concerns to a city attorney in 2016 and requested a meeting with Mayor Sandy Stimpson. He said they still haven’t heard back from the administration.
“He knows about it,” Young said of Stimpson. “His staff knows about it.”
One of the allegations, backed up by Councilman Fred Richardson, is a department supervisor’s use of “time out” for employees.
Following the meeting, Young and a current department employee explained the “time out” was known by employees as “the box.” The employee said “the box” was used as punishment for employees who didn’t do exactly what “the master” wanted. The employee described it as a room made purposely dark by drawing the curtains, but with a television. While employees weren’t locked in the room, “the box” was monitored and they weren’t allowed to leave.
“It seems these employees don’t have any value,” Young said. “I’m here to tell you they do have value.”
The treatment has led some employees to retire earlier than they wanted to, as other employees have quit and not been replaced, Young said. For instance, the city has lost 13 garbage truck drivers and hasn’t replaced them, Young said.
The attrition is leading to long hours for those who remain. Young told councilors sanitation employees are working 12- to 14-hour days and coming in on weekends just to get the job done. The reduction in force, Young said, is a calculated move toward privatization of the service, which he said has already begun.
As an example he used comments Stimpson recently made about cutting non-essential government services to help pay for building maintenance.
“This is nonsense,” Young said. “I’m not going to watch these people go down because of some politician.”
The public works employees also asked councilors to consider them for the same type of raises the city gave first responders last year. Young said public works employees wanted a $5,000 raise, as well as a step raise for each five years each employee has been with the city.
While police and firefighters were given $5,000 raises and step raises last year, other employees making less than $45,000 per year were given $250 bonuses.
“They didn’t receive anything but a pacifier,” Young said. “They’re just as important as any other employee in the city. They deserve to be treated like it.”
Council Vice President Levon Manzie said the employees’ complaints don’t “fall on deaf ears,” adding if Stimpson puts a raise in the budget, he and his colleagues would support it. Manzie said it was he and Richardson who had adjusted fiscal year 2018’s budget to give employees the bonus.
“I’m in support if the administration brings forth an item that does what you’re looking for,” he said. “I’ll support it.”
Richardson said he was concerned about the allegations of abuse and called for an investigation into the claims.
“He’s made this allegation,” Richardson said. “Even if it’s not true, we need to know.”
City attorney Ricardo Woods told councilors administration officials would look into the harassment allegations and report back to council what they legally could. Administration officials made no other comments on the issue during the meeting. Lagniappe reached out to city spokeswoman Laura Byrne for a statement, but hadn’t received one as of press time.
In other business, the council discussed possible policy changes in regard to food trucks after attorney William Casey said a food truck owner he represents was told he couldn’t sell at Herndon-Sage Park. Casey said in March his client was told by someone identifying himself as a coach that he couldn’t serve food out of his food truck because an unlicensed vendor was already there.
“My client checked in with the authorities and got permits to sell food at Sage Park,” Casey said. “He was told by another vendor to leave. It’s obviously inappropriate.”
Parks Superintendent Shadrack Collins told the food truck operator and the other vendor that food truck sales of any kind were not allowed at the parks.
As Assistant City Attorney Flo Kessler and a number of councilors pointed out, ice cream trucks are at various park locations on an almost daily basis. The problem, Kessler said, is the ban on food truck sales was a verbal policy that wasn’t often enforced.
The so-called “on-the-books” policy is to allow food trucks to serve food at parks not already served by a contracted concession stand vendor.
A request for proposals for such a vendor has been put out for Sage Park, but no vendor has been signed.
The council plans to discuss the issue further, a stance Kessler agreed with. In the meantime, acting Chief of Staff Paul Wesch told councilors the administration would come up with a more formal policy and make it publicly known.