Crenshaw Employees Unite

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2008

Crenshaw employees unite against mayor

By Billy Davis

Town of Crenshaw employees who learned Tuesday night they face layoffs or pay cuts due to a tight town budget still banded together to challenge the mayor over proper pay for overtime work.

In an executive session, maintenance manager Sylvester McGlothian acted as a spokesman for town employees when he asked the board of aldermen to give town workers comp time or overtime pay for work hours they had earned but Reed had refused to allow them to use.

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According to the employees, they also requested two years of “back hours” that they said they were owed by the town due to Reed’s refusal to follow federal labor laws. Employees also asked aldermen to set a uniform policy at town hall for requesting comp time.

“We asked them for back hours instead of back pay because we know the town can’t afford the back pay,” town clerk Renee Ward said after the town workers were booted from the executive session.

Outside the boardroom, the small band of town workers had dispersed when board attorney Mary Brown announced that the executive session had concluded.

Speaking only to a reporter inside the boardroom, Brown said the aldermen had set a policy that employees must give a three-day notice before taking comp time.

“They must receive an answer within 24 hours,” Brown said, apparently referring to Reed delivering the answer.

Asked by the reporter about employees’ complaint about comp time and overtime pay, Brown said she had informed the mayor and board that federal law requires that employees receive overtime pay.

Asked then about the employees’ request for two years of “back hours,” Brown’s answer was interrupted by Alderman Shirley Morgan.

“That was never talked about,” Morgan grumbled  from the board table.

But Alderman Alberta Bradley said after the meeting that McGlothian had mentioned that particular request and the board had discussed it briefly.

“We will bring it up at another meeting,” Bradley said.

The town employees had spelled out their concerns about overtime pay in a one-page letter sent on May 12 to Reed and the board of aldermen.

“One of the issues we are having is concerning the comp time,” the letter reads. “Although the time is accumulated, we are not allowed to take it.”

More damning than the letter was a copy of minutes given to the board of aldermen from a May 6 staff meeting led by Reed. In the minutes, town employees confronted the mayor about using overtime when he described comp time as “a gift” to the employee.

“How is comp time a gift after an employee has already worked and earned comp time?” an unidentified employee asked. “How is it then a gift?”

“It will be given on an individual basis depending on the need,” Reed responded. “It will be a decision made by the mayor.”

The minutes concluded with Ward telling Reed that she planned to contact the federal Labor Board after the mayor refused to give her owed comp time.

“Call the labor board. Do what you want,” Reed replied. “Whether they agree or disagree you will still have to wait, and I’ll fight you all the way.”

“And I’ll fight, too,” Ward replied.

Town employees also learned Tuesday night that a cut in labor or weekly hours would be the most likely course of action if town officials choose to trim town expenses.

“Right now you have no room to breathe,” town consultant Lygunnah Bean told the mayor and board, reversing statements in past months that the town’s finances were warily healthy.

Describing the town’s labor as “too top heavy,” Bean then suggested that town officials weigh the cutbacks as an option to improve town finances, bringing to light a scenario Reed had hinted at last month.

 Bean said he would return for a July 17 meeting with three options that would cut the expenses by $11,000 a month, $5,000 a month, or $30,000 a year.

As the conversation over job cuts proceeded, Bradley and Alderman David Whitsell complained to Bean that his past statements gave positive reports of the town’s financial situation.

“Do you remember me asking if we can afford it?” Whitsell asked, referring to pay raises that were given to town employees with Bean’s blessing.

When Bradley pressed Bean about his past positive comments, he agreed that “mistakes have been made.”

“We’re still making them,” Whitsell replied.

Whitsell suggested a bank loan as another option, which Bean complimented as a possible solution, but Morgan replied that Bean’s three scenarios would be a better course of action.

“The town is like a business,” she said. “Sometimes you have to do things to keep the business going.”

“We’ll make some cuts along with everybody else,” Whitsell replied.