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Schenectady disputes union contentions on complaints

Schenectady disputes union contentions on complaints

Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico presented the evidence during City Council committee meetings Monday
Schenectady disputes union contentions on complaints
Photographer: Stock images

SCHENECTADY -- Workers in Schenectady’s Bureau of Services Department have only filed six workplace violence complaints in the last two years, according to city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico.

This was in direct contrast with the approximately 18 complaints American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1037 President James Clay said the union has filed in recent months that he said were considered unfounded by the city. Falotico said it painted a different picture than what the union has been publicly stating.

The AFSCME Local 1037 covers the employees in the city’s Bureau of Services Department.

Falotico laid these figures out during the City Council’s Committee meetings on Monday in a report he presented to the council. It served as a defense against the allegations from union workers, who said incidents of bullying and workplace violence had become so prevalent that they needed to go public.

More than a dozen members of AFSCME Local 1037 showed up to City Hall Monday night, but it was after the meeting had concluded.

Clay, who was there on Monday, declined to comment.

During the meeting, Falotico said there have been a total of 22 workplace violence accusations filed over the last two years from all city workers, including AFSCME Local 1037 members. Most of those incidents involved one employee complaining about a co-worker and that the incidents rarely involved a supervisor not covered by a union.

Of those 22 complaints, Falotico said 14 were founded, 5 were unfounded and 3 resulted in no determination.

“There are people out there saying we don’t have any complaints that are founded,” Falotico said. “I don’t know -- based on the information I have -- where that information is coming from.”

Falotico also said any employee that had an issue with how their case was handled could contact the state Department of Labor’s Public Employee Safety and Health Division to seek a case hearing by an independent arbitrator. It’s something Falotico said he actually recommends employees do when they first file their complaint with the city.

There was only one instance in the last two years where an independent arbitrator from the state was brought in to review a complaint. It was a situation where employees claimed they weren’t being properly paid, but the arbitrator eventually sided with the city, according the decision provided by Falotico.

The issue of workplace violence in the city’s workforce has come up a couple of times in the last year. Most recently it arose with actual evidence, provided by Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo at a Nov. 26 council meeting. It showed complaints that ranged from unsafe working conditions to what employees classified as harassment by supervisors. Employees also said they faced retaliation for filing complaints.

Employees specifically cited Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond, Director of Solid Waste Floyd Slater and Solid Waste Supervisor Miguel Balls in their complaints.

Perazzo provided the information to media members.

LaFond, who was present at the committee meetings on Monday, declined to comment.

Perazzo said she did this after she had been approached by several employees from the AFSCME union. She said the current workplace atmosphere needed to be addressed by Mayor Gary McCarthy and his administration. She also called for a third-party to investigate the claims and that more than just two witnesses are called during the investigation of the complaints.

McCarthy and Falotico, along with other council members, said they had never seen the evidence Perazzo had in her possession.

After the meeting, McCarthy said he couldn’t respond to the complaints because Perazzo hadn't given them to him yet. But he said he wasn’t surprised by any of the evidence presented by Falotico on Monday since he had signed off on each workplace violence investigation.

McCarthy said he had lunch with Clay and Joe Anderson, vice president of the AFSCME Local 1037, and said those issues had never been brought up. He said what they need to be doing is going through the process laid out by the city when filing their complaints.

“I can’t deal with people who don’t play by the rules,” McCarthy said.

Falotico also said the unions are allowed to investigate employee grievances while they are on the clock. He said AFSCME Local 1037 spent close to 4,000 hours in 2017 and 2018 investigating claims, while another union in the city. Civil Service Employees Association, spent approximately 266 hours investigating claims.

The people who have been impacted the most during discussion of workplace violence complaints have been supervisors, Falotico said. Those supervisors, including LaFond, Balls and Slater, are not able to respond, Falotico said, because city’s policy forbids them, as well as the city’s administration, from talking about complaints.

Falotico asked for the council to amend the policy to allow supervisors to comment.

“It would allow us to respond while giving out the least amount of confidential information as possible, but to give the whole story,” Falotico said.

City Council President Ed Kosiur agreed. He requested Falotico draft proposed legislation for them to vote on during the Dec. 17 City Council meeting.

Kosiur said after the meeting the report from Falotico showed the city and the council care about its employees, including blue collar workers.

“The report truly shows our support for our workers and that there are other recourses as well,” Kosiur said, referring to the independent arbitrator.

Kosiur also criticized Perazzo for failing to provide her evidence regarding workplace violence complaints to the council, McCarthy and his staff. Kosiur added that he believed Perazzo’s actions were and early effort to campaign for reelection in 2019.

“There’s no question in my mind that’s what this is all about,” Kosiur said. 

Perazzo said after the meeting she was pleased to know there was the option for workers to bring in an independent arbitrator to hear employee complaints. She said that even though she voted to approve the workplace violation policy in 2016, she wasn’t aware it was an option.

“I will definitely go back to that group to be making sure they understand that,” Perazzo said.

Previous: Schenectady employees go public with harassment allegations, Nov. 28, 2018

Still, Perazzo doesn’t think the issue has been completely resolved. She said more than a dozen employees have contacted her with issues. Perazzo also said she had meetings with employees she had yet to hear from scheduled for later this week.

Some employees didn't file complaints because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, Perazzo said.

As for Falotico’s recommendation to change the city’s policy to allow supervisors to publicly respond to complaints, Perazzo agreed that was a step in the right direction. She said she looked forward to reviewing Falotico's proposed policy revisions.

Perazzo pushed back on the notion that she was attempting to bolster her campaign for re-election. She said she hasn’t officially decided whether tol run again. Perazzo said she was simply voicing her opinions, even if it went against the party line.

“It’s not about politics,” Perazzo said. “It’s about doing the right thing.”

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