21 fired public works employees fight to get their jobs back

The fired public works employees let go over allegations of theft of time and breach of trust should find out this spring if they get their jobs back.

Workers were fired amid allegations of theft of time and breach of trust

The city spent almost half a million dollars on grievances in the public works department in 2013, much of that in the case of 21 fired and four suspended public works employees. Lawyers for both sides are wrapping up their closing arguments.

The fired city public works employees who made headlines for alleged theft of time and breach of trust expect to hear this spring if they get their jobs back.

Twenty-five workers — 21 who were fired and four who were suspended — are in the midst of a grievance hearing that will end with a judgment on whether they can come back to work.

The city used video surveillance and GPS records of city vehicles in November 2012 to investigate the employees. In some cases, it said in January 2013, the workers were only doing half a day’s work. The city also investigated the workers regarding missing asphalt.

It’s a very complicated case.- Lorne Slotnick, arbitrator

The city and CUPE 5167 have had more than 40 dates so far before arbitrator Lorne Slotnick, who will decide each case individually. Closing arguments are expected to finish on Feb. 26 at the Sheraton.

Slotnick says he has an “enormous amount of material to look at,” and expects the earliest he’ll have a decision is April.

“It’s a very complicated case,” he told CBC Hamilton.

The fired employees are asking for reinstatement. Slotnick can rule that the city decision stays, or that the workers be reinstated. He also has the power to rule on back pay or punitive damages, although the union hasn’t specified that it’s seeking that.

Union alleges inaccuracies 

The union argues, among other things, that the city’s claims and documentation are inconsistent. In some cases, it says, the claims of hours worked are inconsistent with information such as GPS records and pothole sheets.

In one case, the city asked two workers in a January 2013 pre-termination interview why they didn’t work after lunch, said Gavin Leeb, lawyer for CUPE 5167, in his closing arguments Tuesday. The workers said during the interview that they didn’t recall the day in question.

“The fact is that it just wasn’t true, and they still got fired for it,” he said.

There are other inaccuracies, he told the hearing.

“In our case, we have at least seven examples where the termination letters include allegations about work not being done after a particular time and it’s just not true,” he said. “It’s just not correct.”

Media reports, Leeb said, also included “lots of false allegations.”

About 30 witnesses have testified in the hearing, including the 25 disciplined workers.

The city initially fired 29 workers, but reinstated some of them.

Costly hearing

It's been an expensive endeavour for the city, which spent $499,898 on grievances in the public works department in 2013. A large portion of that was spent on the incident involving the 29 workers, said Lora Fontana, director of employee and labour relations, last March.

The city’s public works department has had some high-profile problems since then.

The transit division saw a shake up of management after a female employee was awarded $25,000 related to being sexual harassed by her supervisor. The city is also examining its garbage collection routes after revelations that public collectors worked fewer hours than their private counterparts.

There were also reports of a city worker having sex with a prostitute in a work vehicle. City manager Chris Murray neither confirmed nor denied the incident, saying only that the city is in the midst of a broad effort to improve its culture.

Then this month, two roads workers were fired for bringing a pot-laced brownie to work. A co-worker ate it and fell ill.

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