FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Some Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation employees said they’re being unfairly questioned by their supervisors after going to city council with concerns about new policies.
“We like the job we have and we want to be treated respectfully and I don’t think these new policies do that at all. It’s the opposite,” John Wood, a heavy equipment working leader with the Parks Department, said. Wood has worked for the department since 1993.
When collective bargaining went away last summer, city departments were open to change operating policies. The Parks Department did that and the new policies went into effect last month.
“We’re not allowed to stop to get something to eat. That hasn’t changed from before, but now we can’t go back to the nearest facility to warm up, clean our hands or use the restroom or anything. If we decide we need to use the restroom, we need to call over the radio or contact a supervisor and ask permission. It makes employees feel like we’re back in kindergarten. You can’t get overtime if you used a vacation or personal day. They’re using minimum guidelines from state and federal labor laws,” Wood said.
Breaks were also taken away and employees can be held responsible for replacing tools that are lost, stolen or broken because of their carelessness or neglect.
Employees were sent a memo with the new policies on January 23. Wood said they were encouraged to ask their supervisors if they had any questions. Wood said he submitted several questions about several policies and didn’t get any answers before the policies went into effect on February 8.
“Another two weeks went by and still nothing. City council was notified and a day and a half later, we got answers that were sub par,” he said.
At last week’s meeting, councilmen were given a letter Wood wrote asking them for help getting clarification on the new policies. The packet also included the policy changes.
“We followed the chain of command to a dead end road.We had a meeting at which employees were treated hostilely and we were at a dead end,” Wood said. “If we had unions, this is what would have been handled by unions and city council would have been left out of this. But, city council seemed to be the only avenue we had left.”
Wood said that seemed to work because two days later, the parks department did answer some of his questions. But, he said several parks employees have also been called into meetings with supervisors and questioned about the letter to city council.
“We believe their attendance at city council put them in the way of being interviewed like that,” he said.
Wood said that’s inappropriate because going to council was all done on their own time.
“And I’m the only person who produced that document and they’re still doing their ‘investigation’ or whatever they claim it is. I did it all on my personal time and that would be a personal thing and should not affect my work life,” he said. “They said it ‘shined a bad light’ on the Parks Department management and the mayor’s office. They didn’t like that. If you’re not ashamed of your work, then don’t worry about it in the light of day. They’re either ashamed of their work or think it’s not appropriate by city council or the average person wouldn’t think it’s fair.”
Councilman John Shoaff (D-At Large) said he’s not aware of any city policy that would prohibit an employee from talking to a city councilman about department policies. He also said he can request to see any department policies and it wouldn’t be inappropriate for a councilman to have them.
“I think people have a right to come to legislators and speak. We’re not the judicial body but there should always be a way for people to get fair play. People have a right to speak out and nobody should be bottled up. We’re not that kind of society,” Shoaff said.
Another employee gave NewsChannel 15 a recording they said is of one of those meetings with supervisors. Three voices could be heard asking repeated questions about who wrote the letter to city council and who was at the meeting.
Shoaff said he’s not happy to hear employees are being questioned about going to city council.
“My reaction to that is not positive at all. I think that’s unfortunate. I heard there were warnings of consequences if people didn’t speak up which I think is dreadful,” Shoaff said. “They can complain if they wish and make arguments about why they shouldn’t have done it, but they shouldn’t be in effect threatening people. Those are strong words, maybe too strong, but that’s how I’m hearing this thing.”
NewsChannel 15 asked for an interview with Parks director Al Moll about why employees were being questioned about the letter to city council and if the new policies were unfair. The following statement was emailed in response:
The City of Fort Wayne is not in position to discuss personnel matters. After City Council voted to end collective bargaining for non-public safety union employees last summer, the City Administration formed a City Policy Committee to examine several issues, including the eight contracts that used to govern non-public safety union employees, as well as policies and procedures. The City has been proactive in efforts to lead open communication with employees, protect employees, and determine the required next steps moving forward. We understand the importance of valuing employees who commit themselves each day to provide quality, affordable, and life-saving services. City employees and management work together each day to provide the best services possible to residents.