Shared from the 11/16/2017 Albany Times Union eEdition


City of Schenectady union workers upset

AFSCME chief cites low morale, lack of contract


The president of the union for the city’s blue-collar workers says morale is the lowest he’s seen in his 25 years on the job and that municipal services are likely to suffer.

“We pick up the trash every day, we plow the streets, we keep the water running, we fix the roads, so we feel that this is our time, and our members are hurt,” said Adam Armour, president of AFSCME Local 1037, during a recent interview.

Armour said the 160 city employees in the union, who have been working without a new contract for a year, are underpaid and understaffed.

He said some are working second and third jobs just to make ends meet.

Making matters worse, Armour said, Mayor Gary McCarthy, who the union supported in his two campaigns for the post, has canceled the last two negotiation sessions.

The union includes sanitation workers, employees who plow and pave roads, crews that maintain parks and city-owned properties as well as the wastewater department. Armour works in the park department.

CSEA, the union that mostly represents clerical workers, is also in contract negotiations.

McCarthy, who is in Spain at a smart-cities conference this week, said in a text message that “we are in contract negotiations with 1037 and have an agreement not to talk to the press prior to a tentative agreement.”

Armour said his union has submitted two proposals in the 2½ months that the two sides have been at the bargaining table.

“It took a long time to get to the table because they weren’t willing to sit down with us,” said Armour.

The next bargaining session is Dec. 14.

He said a fair contract would be at least 3 percent annual pay raises over the next few years but the city has proposed annual raises of 1½ percent.

Armour was joined in the interview by union Vice President James Clay and Secretary Thomas Berger. Besides the contract, the three men outlined a litany of problems, including managers allegedly bullying and intimidating employees, particularly new hires, inadequate training that could lead to workplace injuries, and on-the-job drug use that has not been addressed.

“It’s like people get hurt and they don’t care,” said Clay, who works in the street department.

City attorney Carl Falotico said the city does care and has a workplace-violence policy that forbids bullying and intimidation.

He said the city conducts confidential investigations of any complaints received in writing about workplace misdeeds. Falotico acknowledged that union leaders during monthly meetings with him and other city officials have brought up general concerns about bullying and on-the-job drug use but have failed to follow up in writing with specific incidents.

“We have not found anything where a manager has had a bullying or intimidation issue,” he added.

Falotico said he offered last month to sit down with any union leader to review any complaints to provide insight into the process but that so far no one has taken him up on that offer.

“So I find it very hard to believe that there is this big problem here in the city when these guys are unwilling to meet with me to talk about it,” he said.

“We feel like the training that is provided is more than adequate that people can safely do their jobs,” he added.

Falotico said the city gives random drug tests that not even supervisors know about and there are “infrequent” problems.

Asked about a work slowdown, Armour said, “Work is slow as it is because we don’t have the manpower,” but staff shortages could make for a long hard winter.

He recounted a conversation in which McCarthy asked him, “How can I get the guys to come to work?”

Armour said he responded by saying, “You treat them better and pay them more.”

City Council members Vince Riggi and Leesa Perazzo expressed support and encouraged the large group of city workers who showed up at Monday’s meeting.

“Without these guys, guess what, our city is going to be mess,” said Riggi, who during the budget hearings last month decried that department heads were getting a raise when the workers didn’t even have a contract.

Perazzo said she is “committed to trying to do whatever I can to finding resolution for them because they are some of our mostly modestly paid, hardest-working people.”

pnelson@timesunion. com 518-454-5347 @ apaulnelson

“We pick up the trash every day, we plow the streets, we keep the water running day, we fix the roads, so we feel that this is our time, and our members are hurt.”
Adam Armour, president of
AFSCME Local 1037

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