Dec 16, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Sixteen of the 20 Geddes Town Highway Department employees were present Tuesday night at the regular Geddes Town Board meeting to express opposition to the board’s intent to abolish a position within the department.
Immediately following the board’s authorization of long-time highway employee Dennis Armani’s retirement, the board moved to abolish the position Armani had held for more than 10 years.
Highway employee and USWA Local 14532 Unit President Joseph A. Longo spoke on behalf of the other 15 highway employees at the meeting, urging the board not to abolish the position.
“We all should keep in mind that less than two years ago, two positions were abolished from our departments after the former superintendent retired,” Longo told the board.
The board entered executive session to discuss the resolution after hearing from Longo.
“They want us to do more with less people,” said highway employee Joseph A. Longo while the board was in executive session. He added that two years ago, the town had abolished two positions within the department in a similar fashion but highway employees were never notified. They had since been working with two fewer men, Longo said, but were unaware for a long time that those positions were not going to be filled.
Upon their return, the town board passed the resolution with a 5-2 vote and abolished the department position.
Longo said he and other highway employees were surprised with the vote, as one councilor who had recently garnered the union endorsement voted to abolish the position.
Several other highway employees said the move left the department with only 19 staff members and around 10 years ago, the department had 28 full-time employees.
Such a decrease in manpower is bound to affect the efficiency of the department, the men maintained.
Those services include debris removal, road repair and snowplowing.
Plowing presents a serious problem when paired with minimal staff, Longo pointed out. Plow operation requires two men per machine, and during severe storms can keep the men out on the roads from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., with short breaks throughout the day.
When there were 28 or even 24 men on staff, employees could rotate shifts and stay fresh for their plowing routes – but with a barebones crew, every employee is needed to maintain clear roadways at any given time.
It comes down to a question of public safety: roads must be plowed for drivers, but fatigued drivers operating plows create a safety hazard.
Longo said with all of these factors, highway employees could not determine what the benefit was for the town to take away another position.
If it was a matter of saving taxpayers money, the board should have opted out of their three percent raise this year, Longo said.
But Town Supervisor E. Robert Czaplicki maintained the decision was the best for the taxpayers and the town.
“It couldn’t be any simpler,” Czaplicki said of the decision to abolish the position. Armani’s retirement offered a perfect opportunity to save taxpayers about $55 thousand a year, without having to lay off any employees, he said.
He verified that the budget did include a three percent raise for the town board members, and offered this solution:
“I’ll cut this deal for them – we will take no raise, if they will take no raise,” he said.
Czaplicki said he believed every year since he has been on the board union negotiations have resulted in a raise for highway employees.
“And we’ll sign a contract tomorrow if they agree to no raise,” he added.
Czaplicki maintained the board believed the highway crew of 19 men was adequate and did not pose a public safety risk.
“They do not need more employees, they can do the job with what they have now,” he said.
“Time will show for town residents when the jobs aren’t getting done as efficiently as they were,” Longo said.