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Schenectady employees go public with harassment allegations

Schenectady employees go public with harassment allegations

The issue was brought up during Monday's City Council meeting
Schenectady employees go public with harassment allegations
Schenectady City Hall is seen in a file photo.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY -- Workers in Schenectady's Bureau of Services Department have had enough.

Bullying and workplace harassment have become so pervasive in Schenectady, they said, that they are making their complaints public.

Issues range from unsafe working conditions to harassment by supervisors and retaliation against employees who file complaints, they said. The employees specifically cited Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond, Director of Solid Waste Floyd Slater and Solid Waste Supervisor Miguel Balls in their complaints.

The complaints were detailed in handwritten notes by union members and were given to City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo. She in turn tried to present the complaints to Mayor Gary McCarthy during Monday's City Council meeting, in the hope the problems would be addressed. McCarthy, however, was not at the meeting.

Perazzo later provided the employees' concerns to The Daily Gazette.

It isn’t the first time workplace strife among city employees has come up at a public meeting.

Union leaders from both the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1037 and the Civil Service Employees Association Local 886 brought similar concerns to the council in April. At the time, Council members Perazzo, Marion Porterfield and independent Councilman Vince Riggi all said their concerns were something that deserved further discussion.

Councilman John Mootooveren acknowledged the city’s workforce was unhappy the night the $86.7 million budget for 2019 was approved, in October. He said he wanted to see a better contract for the workers during the next round of contract negotiations.

The budget was approved in a 4-3 vote -- the spending plan included a more-than $6,000 raise for LaFond and a boost of more than $5,000 for Slater.

Slater would not comment on the complaints this week.

“I’m not aware of these [complaints],” Slater said. “I’m not going to have a conversation about it.”

LaFond could not be reached for comment for this story.

When The Daily Gazette called the Bureau of Services Department to speak with Balls, a reporter was directed to contact city Director of Operations Alex Sutherland.

The complaints provided to The Daily Gazette are detailed in handwritten notes by Joe Anderson, vice president of the AFSCME Local 1037, the union that covers the Bureau of Services Department’s employees.

“Miguel Balls, Tiffany White and Floyd Slater overlook doctors' excuses and have not paid employees for proper time that is missed,” states one complaint.

Another states Balls and city Assistant Solid Waste Supervisor Randy Voris told employees to forge medical documents.

“If the doctor did not check off ‘no restrictions,’ supervisors told employees to do it themselves,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson also said employees have repeatedly told Balls, Voris and Slater about unsafe working conditions in both the garbage and SNAP departments. The SNAP department maintains vacant properties in the city.

“They tell employees in those departments that they have no choice, and if they don’t like it, they can go home,” Anderson wrote.

McCarthy previously said he didn’t think bullying was a problem in the city and said the city takes all complaints seriously. He did not respond to multiple requests for an interview about the most recent complaints.

In a text on Wednesday night, though, McCarthy said none of the council members had spoken with him about issues with workplace violence in the city. He further stated that if they wanted to resolve a problem, they call him.

"When it's more of a posturing for political or press, they just bring it up in a council meeting," McCarthy texted.

He did not immediately respond to a request for answers to further questions.

City employees have recently made approximately 18 workplace violence complaints to the city in recent months, all of which AFSCME Local 1037 President James Clay said have come back “unfounded.”

“We’re just hoping that somebody will hear our cry and intervene,” Clay said. “As city employees, we shouldn’t be disrespected on a daily basis by anybody.”

One of those who have heard the complaints tried to force the city to take action during the City Council's general meeting on Monday.

Several city employees contacted her with their problems, Perazzo said. They gave her handwritten accounts from some the employees, who detailed specific incidents they felt need to be addressed.

Perazzo agreed.

“This has been going on for more than a year,” she said after the meeting. “None of them had been willing to fill out paperwork because they were afraid of retaliation. Finally, they had strength in numbers, saying they did fill out paperwork and nothing comes of it.”

During the meeting, she said she had met with six employees about their concerns. Perazzo said several planned to speak at the council meeting, but they changed their minds.

“These six men, who certainly can take care of themselves, had the desire to come to the meeting and speak out,” Perazzo said. “One by one, they became hesitant because of the retaliation they’ve seen from others.”

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said during the meeting she also had heard about harassment of city employees and agreed it was something that needed to be looked at.

“They should not feel threatened,” Porterfield said. “They should not feel that their voices aren’t heard.”

In one incident described by city employee Keith Aunchman, he said he tried talking to Clay during a meeting conducted by LaFond in the break room at the Bureau of Services office on Foster Avenue on Sept. 28.

Aunchman said he was yelled at by LaFond in front of his co-workers for disrupting the meeting. When Aunchman tried to explain himself, he said LaFond appeared to get more angry, and LaFond "bumped" Clay when trying to approach Aunchman.

“[LaFond] then got in my face and started yelling at me again,” Aunchman wrote.

Clay confirmed details of the incident.

Aunchman said he filed a workplace violence complaint against LaFond with city Human Resources Director Tiffany White.

After three weeks, he met with White and Assistant Corporation Counsel Meghan Fitzpatrick, when he was told his complaint was unfounded, he said. He believes that determination was a result of White and Slater calling in other witnesses, including one with whom Aunchman said he has had disagreements in the past and “was not a witness in the beginning.”

White did not return a request for comment.

Other complaints include two from city employee Trenton Jeffress regarding incidents in October. In one, he said he was driving a truck in Hamilton Hill that broke down in the middle of the road, blocking traffic.

In the other, he said he was driving a dump truck with his hard hat on, but he had his vest slung over his shoulder. He said that was because the vest didn’t fit.

Jeffress said Slater told him to put the vest on.

“Like, this madness needs to stop,” Jeffress wrote.

Falotico said he had not seen the list of complaints from city workers. He said he could not discuss specific claims because city policy prohibits that. However, he said he stands by every investigation into complaints that have been brought and their results.

“We do very thorough investigations,” he said. “We meet with every witness, and we frequently meet with witnesses they don’t put on the list if they have other information that is going to be relevant.”

Falotico also said he has had a longstanding invitation to union leaders to discuss violations and go over the outcomes. No one has taken him up on that invitation, Falotico said.

“If this is such a big, glaring problem, how come nobody will take me up on that and discuss the evidence we relied upon during the investigation?” Falotico said.

Clay said they don’t go and speak with Falotico because they don’t trust him or some other people in the city’s administration.

“Every time we talk with him, when we are talking with Carl Falotico, they want names dropped so they can start messing with employees,” Clay said. “Because every time something is mentioned in labor management meetings, the following day or week, whatever employee was mentioned, they are being harassed. Everything they do is mind games.”

Perazzo, a manager of human resources at Proctors, said she believes there is an issue and that it is supported by the number of complaints that have been filed. Perazzo also said it’s not just a problem in the General Services Department, but that is the one that seems to have the most problems.

“In my humble opinion, the law of averages doesn’t work out to support the city,” Perazzo said. “In what I deal with on a daily basis, there is no collection of people that have waged harassment complaints and have them be unfounded.”

Perazzo requested certain things be done to address the problem during Monday’s council meeting.

First, she asked that the complaints be looked at more thoroughly -- she would like to see an outside party investigate the harassment complaints, specifically. She also asked that, when future complaints are made, more than just two witnesses are called in during the resulting inquiry.

“I’m bringing forward situations that have been explained to me,” Perazzo said. “And I am asking the mayor, as the city’s highest ranking manager, to really look into it -- get an outside party and really look into this and make sure it is as thorough as it can possibly be.”

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