Two years after a city scandal that saw nearly 50 Hamilton roads workers fired, suspended or investigated, one thread remains — a union complaint that some public comments the city made on the issue had a negative impact on the workers.
CUPE Local 5167 says that city councillors and senior management publicly commented on the issue, and that those comments were damaging to the workers.
The union will face off against city lawyers on March 8 before arbitrator Lorne Slotnick. It's expected to be the last of more than two years of hearings between the two.
The city made comments that had "a negative impact" on roads workers, said president Sandra Walker, who wouldn't comment further, citing the upcoming hearing.
City spokesperson Kwab Ako-Adjei confirmed that the two would appear before Slotnick on that issue.
"It's an outstanding matter," he said, regarding what the union charges are "damages arising from comments from some members of council and senior management."
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It's likely the final chapter in a saga that stems back to 2013, when the city fired or suspended 29 front-line workers on allegations of time theft and breach of trust.
In some cases, the city said, roads workers were only putting in a handful of hours for a day of pay. It also investigated the workers regarding missing asphalt.
It's not known specifically what comments the union is taking issue with. Some examples of what was said at the time include:
"What we found was there was little work going on," said city manager Chris Murray at the time. "Crews were taking long breaks. Some days doing little work at all."
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson weighed in too in January 2013, saying the group wasn't reflective of the majority of city workers.
"We had a couple of examples of when they were busting a half an hour per day, which is blatantly unacceptable," We've got to get value for the taxpayers' dollar and we're providing value, so they lost their jobs over it."
Culture of "low expectations"
CUPE 5167 launched an automatic grievance hearing over the firings and suspensions, which started in late 2013 and ended in February 2014. The union said inconsistencies in the city's accounts called the whole process into question.
In the end, Slotnick ruled that the city rehire 15 fired public works employees, but that most would be on probation for two years. Most now have 30-day suspensions on their records.
Of the rehired employees, five received back pay. Another nine received no back pay, which means they were without pay for about 27 months.
Meanwhile, eight supervisors were also scheduled to go before an arbitrator with their union, CUPE 1041, on the same matter. The two sides reached a confidential agreement before the hearings happened.
The matter called attention to what Slotnick called a "culture of low expectations" at city hall. And it wasn't the only such case.
Other incidents included two workers who were ultimately fired for bringing pot brownies to work.
Last summer, the city investigated a former parks superintendent who officials allege used city money to buy herself landscaping equipment. The city also disciplined two male employees.