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.
In a statement received Tuesday evening,city spokesman George Talbot said city does not discuss individual personnel matters.
“The city of Mobile investigates every allegation of wrongdoing thoroughly and objectively,” he said in the statement. “Both city employees and citizens are encouraged to report any incidents of illegal or wasteful activity.”
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 one-time 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.”