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How many city workers does it take (Part 2)

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of July 19, 2012)
Photo of Tree planted by four workers outside City Hall.

The four Vero Beach public works employees weren’t installing a light bulb. Instead, they were digging a hole and planting a small tree.

That mystery is solved, but the reason it took four Vero Beach Public Works employees to do the job last week is a matter of interpretation.

After the photo and story about the rather large deployment of city staff to dig a hole appeared in the July 12 issue of Vero Beach 32963, former Mayor Jay Kramer was curious. He remembered someone asking during city budget talks why there always seemed to be so many workers milling around on jobsites.

He said Human Resources Manager Lynne George told the council about safety regulations regarding working in confined spaces.

“I thought maybe it was the same thing, that a supervisor had to be there,” Kramer said. “Because the human resources gal had told us about the confined spaces, that a supervisor had to be there. I thought that there was something in the union contract.”

Public works employees are members of the Teamsters Local 769, so the logical person to ask was Teamsters Business Representative Steve Myers. He said he drove by that day and saw the men digging.

“They all had on uniforms from what I could see so none of them would have been supervisors,” Myers said. “Supervisors wear whatever they want.”

With regard to the union contract calling for four people being required for the job or to have a supervisor on the job, Myers replied, “That’s bull---.”

“I am so tired of every time something comes up, they say, ‘It’s because of the union,’” Myers said. “There is nothing in the union contract that says they have to send four people to do a job. That’s up to management and they always try to blame it on the union or on the employees.”

Myers, however, did shed light on one reason for the “milling around” that Kramer noted on government jobsites.

Myers said supervisors are usually not allowed to do manual labor because they do not have the same coverage under worker’s compensation insurance as non-supervisory personnel.  If a supervisor did some heavy lifting, or digging, and got hurt, he or she might not be covered.

Kramer said he had never heard of such a thing. “I don’t know about that, I’m a small business owner. I take out the garbage and everything,” he said.

Kramer said he spoke with Public Works Director Monte Falls about why four men were sent to dig one hole for a tiny tree.

“He said it was a four-man crew, that they run around in crews of four and that was one of the things they had to do, the last thing on their list,” Kramer said.

The roots had grown so thick that they were starting to push up the sidewalk, Kramer said. City workers removed the “monster oak” after it had been split in an electrical storm. Did anyone remember an old tree had been there and bring some equipment to help with those hefty roots? Nope.