Politics & Government

Kentucky Labor Cabinet's plan for office workers to shovel snow from parking lot causes stir

Snow Shovel on Porch
Snow Shovel on Porch Getty Images

FRANKFORT — It's not in their job descriptions, but several state Labor Cabinet office employees were in line this week to be drafted to shovel snow from sidewalks and the parking lot at the cabinet's headquarters this winter.

One came forward to volunteer for the job, but David Smith, president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, is still outraged that office workers would be called on for snow-removal duties.

"This gives me great concern," Smith said Thursday. "There are people trained and hired to do such work, not these folks. This is so unfair. Why in the world do they get office employees who are untrained in shoveling snow to do this? It's so ironic that this is happening in the Labor Cabinet."

The cabinet's website says its primary responsibility is "to ensure the equitable and fair treatment of the commonwealth's 1.9 million wage-earning employees."

Five employees — men and women — at the Labor Cabinet who work in office jobs learned Wednesday in an email from cabinet human resources manager Patricia Dempsey that "winter help" was needed.

A copy of the email obtained by the Herald-Leader said one of the two men who had been shoveling snow and salting the sidewalks for the cabinet was retiring Nov. 30 and the other would be needing help.

Steve Lowry, a spokesman for the cabinet, said Ed Sanderson is retiring at the end of the month. He identified the other man as Billy Jordan. He said both work in the cabinet's services and supply branch, which performs maintenance and janitorial duties.

Dempsey said in her email that it would take her "a couple months" to replace Sanderson and that, in the meantime, she would ask for volunteers to help Jordan.

"I'm sure it's not the most pleasant work, but it has to be done," she said, adding that she would try to get a few other employees into the mix of potential help.

"If I don't get any volunteers, I'll have to make up a rotating schedule. Hopefully we won't have to use it very often," Dempsey said.

She said those helping with snow removal would have to report to work early to help Jordan.

"If the person doesn't come in, they will be called by Billy or myself to come in," Dempsey wrote. "If you have a medical reason that you cannot do this kind of work, please let me know. Otherwise, without volunteers, I will create a rotating list."

Dempsey noted that she had cleared her message with the employees' supervisor and branch manager and that the policy would take effect Dec. 1.

Dempsey did not return repeated phone calls Thursday seeking comment.

Lowry said late Thursday that one of the employees from the office group had volunteered for the snow-removal job, but he would not identify the employee.

"Under the law, it's fine to ask employees to shovel snow," Lowry said. "If the Herald-Leader asked its reporters to shovel snow, they would do it."

Lowry said it was Dempsey's decision — "her call" — to ask the employees to help with snow removal.

Lowry said he did not know if the volunteers or drafted employees would be trained in how to clear snow from sidewalks and parking lots.

KASE President Smith said he doubted that training would be provided.

"And asking for volunteers doesn't make it right," he said. "Are you going to tell your boss who does your annual evaluations that you are not going to shovel snow?

"There are other trained state workers who can clear the paths on snow days."

Smith also said if any state workers are injured shoveling snow, they would get about two-thirds of their salary under workers' compensation.

"That could be costly. I'm 42 and I shouldn't be shoveling snow," he said. "I'm wondering if any of the supervisors in the Labor Cabinet will be out there shoveling snow."