7/21/08

SEIU promotes low-morale in workplace

Organizers common complaint: 'Ain't it a shame.'

It's been nearly six months since Lathrop (CA) Mayor Kristy Sayles and the rest of the City Council were officially informed about the abysmal morale among city employees.

The notice came in the form of a long and detailed letter signed by more than a dozen former city employees that included one-time senior planner Deanna Walsh. Reinforcing the contents of that letter was another letter from the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) on behalf of the city union employees. Both correspondences demanded the firing of City Manager Yvonne Quiring for being the cause of the staff's poor morale.

Both letters were presented during a council meeting in mid-February.

To date, that problem has not been resolved. The council has not taken any action. Quiring is still in charge and the council still has to take her to task for the employees detailed and damning charges. And the employee morale problem continues to fester. One wonders how the employees get their jobs done in light of this lack of action on their camplaints, of being ignored as though their feelings don't matter at all.

What should the Lathrop City Council do to solve the deteriorating morale among employees at City Hall?

It's easy, says two-time Lathrop mayor Bennie Gatto who has served the city in one elected and appointed capacity or another since he served on the first city council when the town was incorporated in 1989.

"Bring the city manager in and have a closed session and say, 'What's going on? Let's take of this situation.' Don't tell me that they can't discuss these things. I've told them - everyone of those council people - you need to correct the situation, find out what the problem is and get it corrected."

No reason for mess to have gone on as long as it has

They've all answered, "oh, yeah, we'll look into it," says a frustrated Gatto.

"There's no reason that this needed to have gone on as long as it has. Stand up, take action and move on. That's why people elect you, to get in there and do the job."

But the employee morale problem is hardly the only problem that is crying for a resolution once and for all by the council at city hall, one whose genesis is directly related to morale, or lack thereof, issue. That's the case of fired former Chief Building Official Matt Browne. His story goes even farther back than the employees' cry for help. As anyone who has been following the continuing saga of his wrongful termination fight against the city probably knows only too well by now, Browne was hurt on the job while working on the renovation of the Senior Center in June of 2007, a decision made by the council at that time to save the city some money. He managed to finish the job for the scheduled grand re-opening of the facility. But soon after, he went on disability. Later, his primary doctor released him to go back to work on July 27, 2007. But the day before he was scheduled to return to his job, he was stunned when, without any hint or advance written or verbal warning he was informed by the city manager that he was being placed on administrative leave effective July 26. Only later on would he also learn that his leave was with pay, which may have softened the blow a little bit but did nothing to further enlighten him about what's happening to his 15 years of employment with the city. Also later on, he learned that he was stalked for four days by a private investigator toting video cameras, from his home to the gasoline station where he filled up his vehicle, to the Manteca Municipal Golf Course where he was videotaped eating breakfast at the second-floor restaurant of the club house and playing on the greens below. The videotape also showed the private investigator following Browne to the men's room. Finally, in February of this year, Browne was informed by the city manager that he was being fired, again without any detailed explanation or any type of warning.

All these details came out during the appeal hearing of Browne's unemployment benefit application which was denied by the city. At the hearing before an administrative judge in Stockton, it was also revealed that part of the reasons he was fired was because of alleged worker's compensation fraud and falsification of time card. The worker's comp fraud was based on the videotape that showed him playing golf supposedly while being on medical leave; however, the city did not know that he has been released by his primary doctor to return to work by that time and was no longer on worker's comp, according to Browne's testimony during the EDD hearing.

Gatto believes the people will stand behind Browne

"And that's another fiasco, something that should have been taken care of six months ago" by the mayor and other city officials, says Gatto. "If there's are any criminal charges against him, then bring it out. But they know there's nothing there except a little animosity between two or three people."

Browne would not be asking for an open hearing "if he felt that he did something wrong;" he's that type of guy, Gatto says.

"If he does have his open public hearing, the people will come out of the woodwork and stick up for him because he's helped a lot of people out here," he adds.

Gatto says it's time for the city to get a thorough cleaning.

"It has to get straightened out. Whatever it's going to take, it has to get done - from the city manager to the mayor to the police chief - all the way down. And who's taking the brunt of it all? The employees."

But there's another group of people that may end up bearing the financial fallout of Browne's case. We've heard several people mention that Browne may be contemplating on simply suing the city. In that case, can the city afford to give away its taxpayers' money again? To refresh the memory of those who may have forgotten what happened two years ago, or for the information of those who weren't here at the time, the city used its general fund reserves to pay off $500,000 to its former city clerk who filed a sexual harassment suit against the city. As part of the settlement negotiated between the city and Nancy Rustigian's attorneys from San Francisco, all details were kept confidential including the who's and what's of her allegations.

Is this what the city want to see happen again? And can the city afford to tax its already overtaxed taxpayers again?

Maybe the city got away with giving away the people's money at that time because none of the taxpayers made any noise about what went on at City Hall and how the sexual harassment was allowed to happen in the first place. And who were the culprits? Since the case was settled, and the city clerk lost her employment and any possible employment in any government job anywhere in the future, did that mean those who were involved went on their merry way at City Hall?

What if the settlement in the Browne case eclipse the payoff made in the sexual harassment suit? Can the city afford to dig dip into its taxpayers' pocketbooks especially in this trying fiscal time?

(mantecabulletin.com)

1 comment:

Jody said...

This article isn't entirely true. The city clerk has no restrictions regarding government jobs. With a mistake like this, I wonder how much of the rest of the article is accurate.

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