Friday, January 05, 2007

Northampton County's Workforce: Top Priority in 2007

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOn December 7, long-time courthouse worker Pauline Taylor told county council, "I think you all ought to be ashamed." She is part of a legion of disenchanted workers working without a raise for nearly four years. This is the county's residual unit of row office clerks, 911 workers and custodial staff. Over one hundred of them decorated the county campus with a huge river rat on Pearl Harbor Day. They then crammed into council chambers to demand a contract with a fair wage.

Since that time, council has met twice. No concern has been expressed for its overburdened courthouse staff. Members have instead engaged in backroom maneuvers to eliminate Ann McHale as Council VP. Ironically, she is the one person on council most familiar with the county workforce. As the chair of an active personnel committee, she convened thirteen meetings last year.

County Executive John Stoffa's top priority in 2007 is his underpaid workforce. This year, he plans a much-needed overhaul of the county's antiquated salary structure. Although he has spent most of his first year putting out brush fires started by the previous administration, many employees now blame him for the mess they're in. A county worker recently popped on my blog to say this.

I am a Northampton County worker and I have left comments here before........and even though I have only worked here a short while I'm sorry, I don't see how Stoffa "cares" about his underdog employees, especially hearing what I've heard at the union meetings and at our stand-off on December 7th. I was told the other day, by an employee who has worked here 20 years, that this was the first year the county executive hasn't come to all the offices to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. How pathetic.........and he has still not made a comment to us like he promised to do "the very next day" after our stand-off. We are still waiting---another lie and more proof he's just trying to dodge the issue. He has sent all of the residual unit employees a letter back in July of 2006, trying to make it look like the union was lying about him, when in fact it was his letter that was the lie. If in fact indeed Stoffa was concerned about morale and employees at the County, then he would approach us as individuals, visit our offices to see what we actually do, (which he has not--he is always shocked when learning new things that happen in our offices.......if it's that shocking and he doesn't know, then perhaps it would be in his best interest to go out of his way, leave his office, come see us and find out.) We are individuals, human beings, and we are frustrated, and in our office, severely overworked and underpaid. Boy, if Stoffa really knew how much work we are required to do in our office.......but he refuses to meet the employees and visit them in the offices, and continues to avoid employees pleas to come to a "fair" (which in my opinion I would still be underpaid for my experience, knowledge and required workload) contract. It appears to me Stoffa and the friends he gives the special jobs to think very little of the county employees---actions speak much louder than words, and not on a little occasional talk show, but on a daily basis right here on county level.

I agree workers should have contracts by now. But Stoffa, unlike his predecessor, has tried to involve himself in day-to-day county operations. I've watched him unsuccessfully try to record a deed. I've seen emails he has sent to employees soliciting opinions about what they would do if they had his job. I've seen an email with very specific questions about parking.

And Stoffa has had to deal with an explosion of thirteen different unions, thanks to the Reibman layoffs. One of these is the Steelworkers union at Gracedale. Stoffa's administration was able to negotiate a contract with that union in a few short months.

So why is there no contract with AFSCME, the union certified to represent the residual unit? It's easy to place all the blame on one person, but let's looks at a few details.

* When AFSCME was certified to represent the residual unit on July 1, 2003, John Stoffa was not county executive. Two and a half years went by before that happened.

* Northampton County administrators conducted 35 negotiation sessions with AFSCME for the residual unit before making its "Final Offer".

* Throughout the summer, Stoffa claims he repeatedly requested negotiation sessions, but AFSCME refused, and the county ended up filing an unfair labor practice.

* County council members tell the executive one thing in open session and whisper different things to union negotiators.

* County negotiations have been conducted by a law firm paid by the hour.

I would not be so quick to lay all the blame at Stoffa's doormat. He wants to get it done. So does the union. So I suggest they do so. We can quibble about who's really responsible for the failure in negotiations. But no one can dispute the identity of the victims - the county workforce.

Their meager wages are a serious problem. But that's not their biggest problem. Many of them are becoming ill as the county continues to construct a palace for judges with reckless disregard for both county workforce and general public. As contractors embark on a mega asbestos removal project, workers are dropping like flies. Butz hasn't even bothered to place asbestos removal signs in a prominent location that can be viewed by the public and all employees. More about that next week.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Bernie, Bill Hillanbrand here. It's 2:50 a.m., and I am awake. I am concerned that an employee feels that the administration does not care about their employees. I am also a county worker. I proudly started a union (NCDSA), when people said we could not do it. If any county worker wishes to contact me, stop me in the hallway of the courthouse; phone me 610-559-3091; or email me at whillanb@northamptoncounty.org or come to my office. My office is located in the basement with Orphan's Court. I am not a miracle worker, but I will do the best I can to help. Thanks, Bill

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bill, Thanks for popping on. That'svery encouraging.

Anonymous said...

Well, if enough employees die, and they don't replace them, the county can afford gold plated toilet seats for the judges private bahrooms in a few years!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bill, I am deeply concerned about the asbestos removal. It does not appear to me that sufficient notice has been provided to employees and the public at large. I am concerned about all the dust in the hallways and the fact that employees are getting ill everyt day. One of them gave me a diary and excerpts from that will be published next week. It has to stop. I believe the state DEP has jurisdiction over asbestos removal. Their phone number is (570) 826-2435.

Anonymous said...

Butz feeds off these kinds of projects...its the trough where they make there killions. They don't give much of a rat's ass about any one but Butz...that's why you don't see any hazards signage at the worksite. Plus the incompetence of Norco Government.

Good luck getting DEP to help protect anything but big business there at the courthouse. At best, those letters stand for the Department of Economic Protection...at worst, Don't Expect Protection.

Happy New Year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:35, I called the EPA at 9 AM to express my concerns. At 10 AM, an investigator called to tell me he will check out the courthouse either today or Monday. And someone from Butz now wants to speak to me as well.

That's a sign they are sensitive to this concern. But why? Are they concerned about the health of people at the courthouse or their image? I'm shocked by how quickly the EPA responded.

Anonymous said...

in response to your comments regarding what would you do if you where county executive to that i say it is John Stoffa who should be telling us what he intends to accomplish up to this point i don't no what that is. afterall he ran for and took the job as county executive he should be leading us should'nt he ? isn't it his job to figure out the parking problem why should we do his thinking for him ,we don't get paid enough to think. if you want my true opinoin i think you and ron angle are leading John Stoffa around by his nose. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Anonymous said...

Why are they so concerned their concerned because the newspapers read these blogs. If you start making enough noise they'll start getting phone calls from the local papers.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 4:11,

You've just proved the adage that no matter what someone does, there's always going to be a group that's unhappy and find a reason to whine and complain. Let me explain.

One of the frickin' problems w/ the courthouse renovation is that no one bothered to ask the people who actually work here for any input. As a result, we end up with ridiculous things like the register of wills in an old bathroom. We end up w/ a recorder's office that had to be done over.

People who work at the courthouse have some pretty damn good ideas, whether they're paid for them or not. The county could have saved millions by listening.

Now we finally get an administration that is interested in what its workers think, and you criticize that, too. And by the way, that was one of the things both Stoffa and Dodge said when they were running. They wanted to know what the workers thought. So Stoffa gets elected, does exactly
what he said he would do, and you complain.

The employee whose comment I posted wants Stoffa to be more involved and have more interest in what his workers think. When I point out a few positive steps that Stoffa has taken in that direction, you don't like that and would rather be told what to do.

So Stoffa is criticized for not getting enough employee input by one person, and criticized by you for not leading when I point out a few things he has done that demonstrate he listens.

You've set impossibly high standards for this guy. And I am going to tell you now, whether you like it or not, you're unfair.

One other thing. You state your "true opinion" that Stoffa is led around the nose by Angle and me. This is not a matter of opinion but is something that is either factually correct or incorrect. And, as it happens, it is factually incorrect. If you work at the courthouse, you must know that's not true.

If Stoffa was being led around by Angle, I can tell you right now that Angle would have been the Director of Administration. That's what he wanted. Stoffa would not let him get involved in any aspect of the county admin.

If Stoffa were being led by me, you'd see a far different courthouse. I'd have insisted on substantial raises for employees in executive session with council. If they refused, I'd embarrass them. I'd eliminate all parking permits except for the judges. There would be no metal detector except at the judicial wing. I'd stop construction once people began getting sick and would insist on answers instead of putting up with the dustbowl. I wouldn't let contractors walk away with perfectly good courthouse furniture. I'd ask the judges to pay for cost overruns for the courthouse and those leases out of their own budgets. I'd want a legislative liason to push for legislation and grants that benefit my county. Mary Ensslin would not be part of the admin. The judges' dining room would be a cafeteria for county workers. All economic dev. bond money that has not been spent would be yanked. I'd be building a new archives near the courthouse. I'd consider Gracedale, geographic center of the county, as a new home for many county functions, including C&Y and MH/MR. Voter Registrar DePaul would have been fired after the primary. I would have insisted that elections commissioner Garvin resign or be fired, even though I've met the dude and think he is an honorable man. I'd have Advanced Voting Solutions fix that ballot and their own machines or come and poick them up and give the county a check. I'd push much harder on a regional health authority and a regional plan to deal with disasters like flooding or avian flu. Branco's failure to convene an intergovernmental committee would be pointerd out in a big way.The idea of regionalization has not been pursued enough. The idea of a large sheriff's department with trained officers is an asset that can be sold to other municpalities, saving them and the county money. Council's biweekly meetings are not enough right now. We are in crisis and I would want weekly meetings until all the fires are out, with council committees helping to get some things done. The Home Rule Charter needs some changes concerning elections, and I would push for questions on the ballot. I would restore the practice of keeping the courthouse open until 5:30 PM every Tuesday. Many people who have courthouse business can't get here during regular business hoursd. keep those doors open a little later one day every week. If you don't like that, too bad. Get a job somewhere else and do your whining there. At the end of the day, the lights go off in every office. You'd see lots of changes and they would happen very fast because that's the way I work. But I'm also a bastard and don't suffer fools gladly. So you'd probably hate Stoffa even if he were being led arounbd by me.

This is my approach, not Stoffa's. He has a different style and agenda. His may be better. Angle would try to get rid of the Home Rule Charter completely. Angle is different from both of us. He thinks the county can ber run like a business, and that's a crock.

Your accusation is simply false. I spent some time answering it and addressing you in the hope that you can realize how unfair and negative you've been. Do I like Stoffa? Yes. But that doesn't mean we whisper sweet nothings in each other's ears. I rarely see or speak to him. I don't agree w/ him about everything and I'm sure he doesn't see things quite the way I do. And because I like Angle does not mean I accept everything with blind faith. He is usually right on county issues, but even there, we don't always agree.

Now there is one person who can tell me sopmething about the county and I'll listen. He's forgotten more about the county this morning than I'll ever know. I deeply respect him, and I wish he were more involved. That person is Gerry Seyfried.

So there you have it. If you don't like my answer, too bad. I won't lose any sleep. I'm not Billy Hillanbrand.

Anonymous said...

bernie your correct on some points. i think my point was ask employees important questions ,such as you state health issues their finances etc . on that point we agree , but to inquire of them to opion what they would if they where executive to me is nonsense, at this point people want to hear what he intends to accomplish, my response was one of frustration with stoffa i don't see him quite the way you do. i think he his extremely insensitive to the needs of the employees i find him to be self absorbed and very impersonal. i think up till now he's done a poor job. he has heard the employees pleas what more does he need to hear how much input does he want? your are right in commenting the people who work at courthouse have good ideas i agree. and had anyone been listening they would of heard the answers to all those questions .stoffa was elected to do a job to fix the problems,he made promises bernie he just didn't keep how can you or anyone respect that? i whole heartedly agree with you about gerald seigfreid i to respect and admire him maybe stoffa should give him a jingle he could learn alot from him . bernie thank you for your interest in the county and it's employees you have great ideas if only some could be put to use it would be taking steps in right direction.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:02,

Thank you for the nice words after my very lengthy and somewhat testy response. That's very encouraging to me because it shows you are still listening, and I hope you start seeing improvements soon.

If Stoffa was a person who I could lead around by the nose, I can guarantee you that Seyfried would be a big part of a Stoffa administration. He acts like he's just a blue collar steel worker, but understands public finances better than anyone I know, and that even includes Angle. And he knows how to whip that council into shape. He's a county treasure, and I'd love to see him run for council.

And as far as Stoffa is concerned, he really did spend most of his first year putting out little fires. I agree wholeheartedly that ALL contracts should have been negotiated and signed by now, but I'm not willing to blame just one person for that. I do expect to see Stoffa advance this year, and I suspect he'll surprise a lot of people. You speak of your frustration and I won't criticize you for that. You have every right to feel that way. But in all honesty, I don't think you've given the guy a chance to show you what he's like. He needs a year to start making his own mark, and seems to have started in that direction. The way he handled the open space and budget demonstrates he is NOT the bumbling fool many believe. Those who underestimated him had their heads handed to them that night. All I ask is that you open your mind to the possibility he may be genuine. He may sit on the 4th floor and speak with all the hot shots, but he and they combined don't have all the answers. Neither do I or any of us. That's why you should help him. If you have an idea, let him know. The best ideas about the courthouse almost always come from the rank and file. It's why Grube used to be good. He used to listen.

At this time next year, I expect to see a county in much better shape. If it's not, I'll join your chorus.

As far as Stoffa making promises he did not keep, I assume you're referring to his promise to allow arbitration for residual workers. There's no doubt in my mind, after listening to everyone, that he made that promose. There's also no dounbt in my mind that Stoffa does not realize that. Sometimes people misspeak. It doesn't make them liars. Joe Long got on a radio show and sadi the elections commission blessed off on the ballot. Moments later anm elections commissioner called to say that wasdn't true. Long then claimed he never said that. Well, he did, and was even taped making that very remark. But he didn't lie. He just misspoke. He meant to say one thing and other words came out.

Many reputable employees have told me they heard Stoffa make that promise, but they won't call him a liar.

Let me give you one small example why I think Stoffa is honest. After the bond was adopted, it became quite unpopular, especially when it became apparent that county services would have to be cut to pay the annual debt. County council candidates were beating their chest and screaming they would Never allow public money to be spent on roads or parking lots for luxury codos. Only one person who was then running for council stated he would have voted for that bond. It was Stoffa, and it probably cost him the election. I was probably the biggest opponent to that bond and disagreed w/ Stoffa's position, but was very impressed by his honesty that night. And in a world of liars and snakes, he has remained honest w/ me.

There are few people in that world who will be honest w/ me. Stoffa is one of those people.

Once agin, sorry for writing so much. I apprciate your views. You obviously care very much, too. We're both on the same side.

Now I've got to speak to Bernie Takes No Prisoners.

LSTresidentPIA said...

I am confused Bernie. The employees who got sick previously got sick from what?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Sorry for confusing you. Employees have been getting ill since the renovations have started. In the Civil Division, fiberglas particles have resulted in rashes, illness, headaches. Employees were told to wipe down all equipment every day and take a shower immediately after work. In the Register of Wills, which was moved to an old bathroom and hall, mold and mildew resulted in strange smells and illnesses. One has had to resign under doctor's orders. In the recorder's office, four title searchers all managed to get walking pneumonia at the ssame time. In the public defender's office, emmployees are often ill with headaches red eyes, strange tastes, etc. I will chronicle this next week. There is a big asbestos removal project underway. But what's worse, there's a real dust problem. Contractors are removing ceiling and walls and dust is evertywhere. The basement looks like a veritable dustbowl. I wiull have more on this situation early next week. The DEP inspected the place on Friday and found no asbestos, and that should be good news, but people are getting sick. I understand a memo came out today from the county to Butz telling Butz it is in violation of its contract and to take steps to keep this dust at a minimum. I tried to get the memo but don't have it yet. Butz wants to talk to me on Monday. I'll hear them out before writing my report.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same Seyfried who supervised an office where an employee stole over a hundred thousand dollars while he was walking the halls ?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 2:48, Yes, an employee did steal $100k while Seyfried was there. And your point, I assume, is that this never would have happened if Joe Long were in charge. And that's a cxrock. The emplyee is the criminal division was also stealing right under the nose of John Morganelli. Want to call him a bad DA, too? His office didn't even uncover this. Want to toss him? I didn't think so.

People steal. It happens all the time and you're not going to change that without changing human nature.

That was a cheap shot.

Anonymous said...

Is there a good architectural reason for entering the Court House on the corner, the farthest point from anywhere?

And, how about some good direction signs outside to get us to the entrance from the parking deck?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon, The entrance is where it is because our judges didn't want us peasants treampling mud all over their marble floors. They want us outside. Some signs are up to give directions, but no signs will solve the problem because most people would think the entrance is where employees come in.