Lexington’s solid waste employees say nothing has been done to address pay disparities despite promises from city officials during an October meeting to look at the issue.
“They never formed a committee and we have been waiting nearly five months,” said Dion Henry, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees chapter that represents solid waste workers. “We have been lied to.”
Many workers are upset that new employees are often being paid more per hour than long-time employees in the department, which picks up the city’s garbage and recycling.
Sanitation workers told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council during an October council meeting that starting employees can make between $2.00 and $3.00 more an hour than employees who have worked at the city for more than a decade.
At the October meeting, Henry and others asked the city look into a “step program” that allows employees’ pay to increase based on years of service and other factors. Police, fire and corrections officers have similar programs.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said during the October meeting the city should at least form a committee to look at the pay disparities. At that same meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton said she would look into the cost of such a program, but cautioned the council that other departments would want similar step programs.
Henry said he was recently told by the city’s human resources staff that no committee was formed and the issue has not been addressed.
Kay, though, said this week he was told that city administrators have been looking at the issue.
“They are preparing to have some sort of report,” Kay said of the administration.
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, confirmed that city administrators have been discussing the issue. Straub said a report has been prepared and the recommendations will be presented to the council’s General Government and Social Services Committee at a meeting on May 14.
Straub said part of the confusion may have been caused by an error. Kay had referred the issue to the general government committee in October but the issue was not included on a list of things that were referred to the committee. That error has now been fixed, she said.
Meanwhile, AFCSME and city officials plan to meet again in early April to discuss a possible “step program.” Henry said they want the issue addressed or “we may end up in civil court.”
The disparity in pay is not only hurting morale but making it difficult for the department to retain drivers, Henry said.
“Many of them get that first pay check and leave,” he said. “They’ll go to Old Dominion or other trucking companies who have step programs.”
There is a nationwide shortage of people with commercial driver’s licenses, or CDLs.
The city negotiates with police, fire and corrections officers under collective bargaining, but it does not treat AFSCME the same way. Instead, it meets with AFSCME under a system called “meet and confer,” an alternative to full union status.
Pay is not an issue that can be addressed under “meet and confer” rules, the city contends. State law only grants police, fire and correction officers collective bargaining rights.
Henry, though, said sanitation workers are not talking about individual pay, but establishment of a pay scale. Other city departments also are not organized and don’t pay dues to a union, he noted.
The city’s solid waste department is largely funded through property taxes. Henry said he has been told there is enough money available from that tax to move employees to a step program.
Overall, the city’s finances are strained, making pay increases tricky.
Mayor Linda Gorton has already ordered current-year cuts of less than 1 percent to address a potential revenue shortfall in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Gorton, who took office in January, has warned that next year’s budget will be lean as the city struggles with rising costs and flat revenue.
The city also made adjustments to its contract with Fayette County Detention Center employees late last year after jail employees told the council they were working multiple overtime shifts each week because of staff shortages and an increase in jail inmates.