Union blasts Raleigh council inaction on worker appeals

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 25, 2013 

— An employee union is upset that the Raleigh City Council hasn’t held a hearing on changing the appeals process for fired employees.

Ashaki Binta of the N.C. Public Service Workers Union had a heated exchange with city council members Tuesday. “We seem to be hiding behind legal technicalities and tossing the ball from one base to the next base,” Binta said. “There’s been no outreach to get input from the workers that work here.”

Back in March, several council members promised to do just that. “We also need to get the perspective of the folks who go through that process,” Councilman Thomas Crowder said. “Is that process expedient and transparent?”

The March discussion led to a two-page report emailed to city council members by City Manager Russell Allen. The memo detailed how employee appeals get to the appointed Civil Service Commission, which hears the final appeal of Allen’s personnel decisions. Some council members have said they’re satisfied with the report

The workers union argues that the process is unfair to employees. They want the city to appoint more active employees to the commission, allow workers to bring union representatives to make their case, and reinstate all workers who win a majority vote from the commission.

Binta and other representatives came to a council committee meeting to make their case but found out the issue wasn’t on the agenda. “You came to the meeting and were disruptive,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin told Binta on Tuesday.

The issue hasn’t been on a meeting agenda since. Mayor Nancy McFarlane said she has offered to meet with the union, but her offer hasn’t gotten a response. “I sent that message and have not heard anything back,” she said.

McFarlane said the council won’t discuss the firing of sanitation worker Shirley Venable, who the union representatives want to see back on the job. Venable had been a victim of domestic violence and lost her job a few days later over accusations she had threatened her boss. When her case went to the Civil Service Commission, the majority of the members on hand for the hearing voted to reinstate her, but with several members absent, her appeal fell short of the required four votes.

“We cannot take up a hiring and firing case,” McFarlane said. But council members did ask City Attorney Tom McCormick why a 3-2 vote wouldn’t be enough.

McCormick said the commission’s set-up requires a supermajority, intended to create the “presumption that the manager’s decision is correct.” But when all seven members are present, the required four votes are just a simple majority.

“The Civil Service Commission should not have met unless all members were present,” said Rukiya Dillahunt, former president of the local N.C. Association of Educators chapter.

Dillahunt criticized the council along with Tara Romano of Project Vox, a local nonprofit that focuses on domestic violence. They said the city needs to do more to protect domestic violence victims like Venable who work for the city.

“I’m aware (victims) may say things that might be inappropriate,” Romano said. “If we fail to support the victims and survivors, we are enabling the people who commit the violence.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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