By Michael Howell
On Monday, November 4, the County Commissioners held a closed door meeting to evaluate the performance of Road and Bridge Department Supervisor Dusty McKern. The result, according to unofficial minutes of the meeting, was a 4 to 0 vote “to grant a compensation increase in the amount of $3,000 (annually) which is based upon the Commissioners’ successful review of the Road Supervisor’s progress, knowledge and experience gained.” Commission Chairman Jeff Burrows said, when asked about the review, that he thought it was a thorough review and that everyone was in agreement that the Supervisor had “met or exceeded our expectations” in terms of his performance.
Several members of the road crew have talked to the Bitterroot Star (off the record and unwilling to be named for fear of retribution), relating various stories which, if true, would paint a different picture. Then, last Wednesday, the newspaper received a document in the mail indicating that the new Supervisor also had some expectations of the road crew. It was an undated, unsigned document which reads:
1) Come in the shop ready to work. The tax payers should not have to pay for someone to tie their shoes in the morning, hang around the shop until they can go to the bathroom, read a magazine or the paper. The basic rule of employment is you are paid to “work”. I will write up anyone who is consistently at the shop past 7:15 am.
2) Once you are lined out “GO TO WORK” don’t wander around the shop BSing with the others. If you want to BS do it on YOUR TIME. The women in the office have work to do and so do you, if you do not have to be in the office stay out.
3) Individually most of you were at the top of their chosen profession prior to hiring on with the road department. The consensus amongst the people in this room is they were surprised at the lack of productivity and the quality of work that the county was putting out when they arrived. What have YOU done to change this? Or has this continued on. Have you been lulled into the OLD WAYS? Do you realize that this place looks to others, like it did to you, when you first arrived?
4) Safety is for the safety of the County employee’s and is an individual responsibility. Not a tool to be used against the county for ulterior motives.
5) Break times are 15 minutes, lunch is 30 minutes. Anyone found abusing this time will be written up.
6) The name of the game is productivity, if we are not getting anything done why are we paying you?
7) Overtime without prior approval may result in disciplinary action.
8) YOU represent the road department, if you do not think highly of the road department who will. Everywhere I have worked previously, they have believed they were the best, and there was nothing that could stop them. The consensus here is that individually you are great, but as a team you are subpar. We need to work as a team, help out the guy or gal next to you, push them to be better, and individually strive to get better. Train your replacement, we all come from different backgrounds and have different strong suits. Train others in your strong suit.
9) If you have a complaint you need to be willing to stand behind it. There is little management can do with an anonymous complaint, little or no action can or will be taken. If you can’t stand behind your own complaint, how can you expect anyone else to?
10) There are individuals here that I can stand behind. As a whole I am unwilling to stand behind the crew at this time. I want to be able to say to anyone who questions the road dept “1 have the best crew anywhere”. With the Union structured the way it is, as a collective, I cannot stand behind a few, and not the rest. You are a team whether you like it or not and you are being scored as a team.
11) Showing up on time is a must for all employees. We start work at 7am, if you come in the shop at 7:00 am, You are late. I will be writing everyone up, without exception, that is late.
12) Use of cell phones for personal matters will not be tolerated unless you are on break or at lunch. Exceptions will be made on an individual circumstantial basis.
13) If you truly hate your job, please do the rest of us a favor and go find another one that you like. Otherwise do your job, and keep your feeling to yourself.
14) If you have a poor attitude don’t try and bring everyone around you down also. If this is not possible you will sent home until your attitude improves. I will not baby sit a bunch of grown men and women.
15) Not all of this applies to everyone, but some of it applies to all of you. If any of this is unacceptable to you, maybe it is time you evaluated your employment with the County and decide whether or not this is where you want work.
On Thursday the newspaper presented the document to Commission Chairman Jeff Burrows, asking him if he was aware of the document and if it was a Road and Bridge Department policy. He said that he was unaware of it, but would make some inquiries. Road Department Administrator John Horat said that he had seen a digital copy of the document but did not want to comment any further. Road Supervisor Dusty McKern said that he did produce the document and it had to do with a meeting held about six months ago. Later that afternoon, Commissioner Burrows told this reporter that he had discussed the document with Human Resources Director Robert Jenni and that Jenni stated he was aware of the document and that it was a list of “talking points” used by the Road Supervisor at a meeting on March 17 of this year. Even later that afternoon the newspaper received a call from the Road Administrator, stating that he had found a document and wanted to compare it to what he had been shown and see if they were the same. He forwarded a digital copy to the newspaper and the documents were identical.
The following day, Friday, at closing time another document was dropped off anonymously at the newspaper office. This one appeared to be an initial version of the “Management Expectations” document in our possession. It was headlined “Spring Meeting” and contained only 13 “talking points,” some of which contained different language.
For instance, in the “Spring Meeting” document, the first point stated: “Come in the shop ready to work. The taxpayers should not have to pay for someone to tie their shoes in the morning, hang around the shop until they can take a shit, read a magazine or the paper. The basic rule of employment is you are paid to work.”
#2 “Once you are lined out ‘GO TO WORK’ don’t wander around the shop BULL SHITING (sic) with the others. If you want to BULL SHIT do it on YOUR TIME. The girls in the office have work to do, if you do not have to be in the office stay out.”
There were other minor discrepancies and items #14 and #15 from the “Management Expectations” document did not appear in the “Spring Meeting” document.
The “Spring Meeting” document also contains a hand written comment at the top stating “Attachment A.” Although unconfirmed, the Star has been told by credible sources that this document was included as an attachment in a human rights complaint filed this September by a Road Department secretary. That complaint is still under investigation by the Human Rights Bureau. Our sources, each independently and unaware of the other’s comments, stated that the human rights complaint which contains this attachment, alleges the use of even more objectionable language (including the “F” word) by the Supervisor in the workplace on more recent occasions.
The Bitterroot Star has submitted a request to the Human Rights Bureau for a copy of the complaint. That request is currently being processed and either of the parties involved may object to its release.
At a commissioners’ meeting last Thursday concerning road maintenance scheduling, the Road Supervisor told the commissioners that, due to the recent departure of a mechanic, he was going to temporarily transfer a current machine operator to the vacated mechanic’s position. He said rules allow for such a transfer but the employee would still have to be paid at his operator’s pay scale, rather than the lower mechanic’s pay scale, while he did the job. He planned on posting the mechanic’s position internally for permanent replacement.
Commissioner Ron Stoltz said that since neither of those actions was on the agenda for that meeting, another meeting would have to be scheduled to consider that temporary transfer and to approve advertising for a replacement.
Road Administrator John Horat noted that current union-approved rules allow for such a temporary transfer if the employee is paid at the higher wages of his current job and that the department had sufficient money in its budget to do that.
Stoltz objected, saying that the Board of Commissioners had a policy which requires the transfer and the posting of the job application to come before the Board for approval.
Commissioner Burrows noted that such a delay could hamper operations at the Road Department since they would be down to only one mechanic. He said he didn’t understand the need for approval by the Commissioners.
Stoltz responded that he was on the board when the policy was made and that there were good reasons for it and he would stick by the policy.
Commissioner Suzy Foss defended the policy, stating that in the past things like this had been done by departments and problems had come up, and the Commissioners had not even been aware of them. She said they made the policy so that they would at least be aware of the changes.
Burrows noted that in this case they were being informed and the requirement to get the Board’s approval could end up making a problem due to the delay involved.
Stoltz and Foss both insisted on sticking to the policy.
After looking at the schedule, due to conflicts with varying commissioners it was determined that the item could not be accommodated within the next week and it was scheduled for the following week.
Burrows noted that this was the kind of problem he spoke about earlier and that he would like to see the policy brought up for review.
The newspaper was able to contact the mechanic who quit, Larry Richey. He was in Alaska looking for work. Besides being one of the two mechanics at the Road Shop, Richey also served as Union Shop Steward. The County Commissioners have been involved in protracted negotiations with the union representing Road and Bridge Department employees over contract renewal. Commissioner Stoltz is negotiating for the county. Those negotiations have now gone into mediation.
“I feel bad about bailing out,” said Richey, “but I just couldn’t take it anymore.” He said that he gave up a good paying job in the private sector to come to work for the county expecting that he would have some job security and three consecutive days off. The cut in pay seemed worth it just to get those two things, he said.
Richey said that instead of job security, he found himself faced with constant threats from the new Supervisor that everyone might be put on half-time or even laid off due to budget problems. He said the threats were often accompanied with vulgarities.
“This guy can’t manage people,” said Richey. “He was cussing enough to put a sailor to shame.”
He said that didn’t change until the secretary filed a human rights complaint against the County. He said management then passed a rule forbidding employees to come into the front office.
“What kind of business is that?” he said, “If you can’t manage people any better than that, it’s crazy. They are trying to rule by fear.”
He said that the management was using false figures to argue that privatization of the work force might save money. As an example, he said, the county had recently bought $800,000 worth of gravel at $6 per yard, arguing that it would be cheaper than having the Road Department produce it. He claims the department can actually produce gravel for $3 to $4 per yard and that it will be even cheaper in a year, when the crusher is paid off.
“You could put $300,000 a year into repairs on that crusher and still produce gravel cheaper than what they bought,” said Richey.
He said the layoffs, implemented due to the potential cut in SRS funds, were also bogus. He said there was plenty of existing SRS funding to get through the year and any new funding would not come until January 2014 anyway. He said they did receive the funds but nobody was hired back.
“How do you work in an environment when your Supervisor doesn’t want you around?” said Richey. He said that safety factors were being ignored as a kind of cost saving measure, such as questioning whether a flagger was really needed on certain jobs. He said that even though he was working as a mechanic, he was asked if he would drive a snowplow.
“I said yes, but I had no training and they didn’t offer any training,” he said. “They are creating situations without any consideration for safety.”
“When I took the job I was expecting some politics to be involved, coming from the private sector as I was, but nothing like this,” said Richey.