Fayette County

Lexington, sanitation workers reach tentative agreement on overtime, vacation, worker safety

Lexington sanitation workers say starting employees are making more than employees who have been there for decades. They want the city to implement a “step” program that guarantees pay raises over time to get rid of the inequalities in pay.
Lexington sanitation workers say starting employees are making more than employees who have been there for decades. They want the city to implement a “step” program that guarantees pay raises over time to get rid of the inequalities in pay. Staff File Photo

Sanitation workers and Lexington city officials reached a tentative agreement Tuesday on issues involving overtime, vacation time and some worker-safety problems, union officials said.

Bo Johnson, a representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the two sides met Tuesday morning and orally agreed to some key changes. The 150-member bargaining unit is waiting for the city to prepare the changes in writing and sign them.

The sanitation union has scheduled a rally at the government center at 5:30 p.m. Thursday before the Urban County Council meeting.

Johnson and Dion Henry, president of the sanitation workers union, said other unions are expected to attend the rally. Henry said several workers are scheduled to speak before the council.

"This is not about pay," Henry said. "This is about dignity and respect and worker safety."

Johnson said Thursday's rally will go on even though the outstanding issues have been resolved. Johnson said the union employees still feel they are not being heard.

"Our main issue is the treatment of our workers by the director," Johnson said.

Sanitation workers allege that the city is violating a memorandum of understanding signed in May that outlines when sanitation workers can take vacation time, overtime and sick leave. The current management of the Division of Waste Management also has instituted cost-cutting measures that have resulted in injuries, they say.

The city meets with the waste management employees under an agreement called "meet and confer," an alternative to full union status for public employees.

At least seven sanitation drivers are currently injured and not working, Henry said. To boot, because of the policies put in place by waste management director Tracey Thurman, seven people — including three supervisors who are not part of the union — have quit or retired over the past 10 days, Henry said.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city would not comment on the union's complaints about Thurman. Straub said Thurman declined to comment for this article.

Tuesday's meeting came after weeks of back-and-forth between city officials and the sanitation workers. On Friday, chief administrative officer Sally Hamilton sent the union a letter outlining some proposed changes, including overtime and vacation time solutions. The city provided a copy of that letter to the Herald-Leader.

Before Tuesday's meeting, the two sides had already agreed to make changes to two key policies.

The city agreed to put more than one person on the city's recycling routes. The department had moved to one driver for those routes because of a loss of drivers and to save money, but too many of the recycling drivers were getting injured, sanitation workers said.

Hamilton's Sept. 18 letter said the city would put more workers on those recycling routes temporarily until the issue can be studied. Johnson said Tuesday that the city's risk-management department will look at the issue.

Another issue that was ironed out before Tuesday's meeting involved sick leave. Sanitation workers said they were told that they had to have a doctor's note if they were sick for one day. The memorandum of understanding says a doctor's note is required only after three sick days.

Workers who didn't have a doctor's note were not paid, therefore losing not only pay but their accumulated sick and vacation time, Henry said.

The city agreed to do away with that policy and repay workers for days when they were marked absent without an excuse.

Issues that were resolved Tuesday also included problems regarding overtime and vacation days. Sanitation workers said that during negotiations for the memorandum of understanding, they gave city officials several examples of when overtime occurs — such as during the Roots and Heritage Festival, the Fourth of July and other events. Those were just examples, they say. However, the city has granted overtime only for those examples in the memorandum of understanding. Moreover, they said, overtime is not granted on a rotating basis — so all employees have an opportunity to be granted overtime — but is granted based on personal favorites.

Sanitation workers also say that vacation time — even when it is requested 30 days in advance — is sometimes not granted because there is a shortage of sanitation workers.

In her letter, Hamilton, the chief administrative officer, suggested that the city move to a rotation for all overtime, not just for the examples outlined in the memorandum of understanding. Hamilton's letter also said the city could not grant all sanitation workers vacation on the same date because garbage and recycling needs to be picked up. Therefore, she recommended that when multiple employees request the same day off, those vacation days be granted based on seniority.

Johnson said the union agreed to those changes during Tuesday's meeting. He said the city also agreed not to require drivers to drive more than 10 hours a day.

Johnson called the Tuesday meeting productive and applauded Hamilton for listening to the sanitation workers.

"Sally Hamilton was very polite, professional and easy to work with," Johnson said. "I believe the mayor's office and the chief administrative officer want to resolve these issues, but there is resistance on the part of the director."

Henry and other sanitation workers said that those issues should have been resolved before Tuesday, but that Thurman has refused to talk to sanitation workers and even supervisors who are not part of the union about their concerns. The city agreed to make changes to the sick-leave policy and to address safety issues involving the recycling routes only after John Maxwell, the city's human resources director, and David Holmes, the commissioner of the department of environmental quality and public works, got involved in those discussions earlier this month. Thurman was interim director beginning in December 2013 and was named director on June 30, 2014.