Local News

Raleigh Changes Temp-Worker Policy

Posted October 3, 2006 6:02 a.m. EDT

— In the latest fallout from a month of unrest by Raleigh sanitation crews, the City Council voted Tuesday to offer permanent positions with full benefits to temporary city workers with more than six months on the job.

Sanitation crews staged two work stoppages last month and picketed City Hall to protest long work days and a lack of benefits. The workers said managers forced them to work overtime without pay and wouldn't let them take compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay. Also, almost two dozen sanitation workers didn't qualify for health or retirement benefits after more than a year on the job because they were still considered temporary workers.

The council already had added 12 positions to the sanitation crews to help spread the workload and prevent long collection days, and City Manager Russell Allen said a higher priority would be placed on maintaining collection trucks.

Last Friday, Gerald Latta, director of the city's Solid Waste Services Department for the past 17 years, turned in his resignation, effective Dec. 1, and Lash Hocutt, the department's operations superintendent, was reassigned to the city's Public Utilities Department.

The new policy will affect nine sanitation workers and another 22 throughout the city.

Consultants are studying management practices in the Solid Waste Services Department and trash routes to make sure they are reasonable in size.

Community groups that back the workers said the city would be better off relying on long-time sanitation workers for guidance than paying $29,000 for a report from consultants.

"They know more than anything how we can improve things, and I don't think we're taking advantage of their knowledge," said Keith Sutton, chief executive of the Triangle Urban League.

Mayor Charles Meeker plans to have two meetings with sanitation workers Thursday, and Allen said the consultants also will talk with veteran workers.

Allen, however, noted the consultants' study will allow him to focus on the workers' complaints about overtime.

The Solid Waste Services Department has $275,000 in its annual budget for overtime pay, and Allen said he hopes to keep overtime to a minimum.

Until a decision is made, workers will continue to receive overtime pay instead of comp time for extra hours worked, he said.

He attributed the recent spike in overtime to the expansion of the city's recycling program, noting workers also racked up overtime under the city's former twice-weekly, back-yard pickup schedule.

This summer, the city added a number of products, including paperboard and more plastic containers, to its recycling collections, which sanitation crews handle.

"The city is just growing so rapidly. It's just hard to keep up with all that, and I think that's part of our underestimate of staffing and equipment," Allen said.

Critics of the new collection system wish changes had never been made.

"It's too late to go back to what we once had," Councilman Philip Isley said. "It's a shame, frankly. I wish it had not happened. I think the die is cast, and we have to make the best out of a pretty bad situation."