Monday, March 01, 2021

Osborne: Despite Pandemic, SWT Threatens End To Healthcare For Striking Public Works Staff

In an extraordinary display of callousness, recklessness and lack of respect for its employees, South Whitehall Township officials notified the striking Public Works employees on Friday that the township will not contribute towards the cost of their health care insurance after February 28, 2021. The employees were advised that if they wished to continue their existing health care coverage, including vision and dental coverage, they must do so at their own expense after that date. They were directed to contact a township administrator if they had any questions.

Actually, it doesn’t surprise me that a labor attorney would suggest such a strong-arm tactic to get the union to “knuckle under” and agree to their demands because it is an attorney’s job to present options to the commissioners. What DOES surprise me, though, is that the commissioners would choose to approve this ill-advised “strategy”. We are in the midst of a pandemic for goodness sake! Do the commissioners really think that telling these dedicated men and their families that they have just two days to fend for themselves for their health care, living with the reality that any one of us can come in contact with, and succumb to, this deadly disease, is the right thing to do?? Put them and their families at risk so the township can claim some sort of “win”?? These men are good-to-the-core, hardworking, real people out in the elements year-round to ensure we have clean water, working sewers, safe streets and parks to enjoy.

In testimony before Lehigh County Judge Reibman seeking an injunction on February 16, the township attorney and staff said the Public Works employees performed critical jobs for the residents and argued that contractors cannot perform this work as efficiently or effectively. Does this sound like an endorsement for their value and worth, or what? Apparently, that testimony wasn’t good enough for the majority of the commissioners. They gave the negotiating team the green light to keep pounding away.

This negotiation will be resolved, perhaps even today, but the damage it has caused will linger on for a long time to come.

I hear the calls for change getting louder and louder. Stay tuned.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

I certainly understand the fear that would come with possibly losing your healthcare during a pandemic, but are you telling me that union members (and union leadership) voted to strike without taking this into consideration? Certainly they weren't expecting taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for their healthcare while not doing their jobs.

Also, did the Public Works employees come back off their strike during recent snowstorms to make sure that township roads were plowed and safe for township residents and others traveling through the Township? Or did they leave it to Township Supervisors to fend for themselves and scramble to find contractors to clear the roads (and taxpayers to pick up the tab for that)?

While I don't want to see anyone lose their healthcare during a pandemic, the Public Works employees have chosen not to work at a time when the pandemic has cost many others their healthcare and their jobs. To emphasize that again, they made a choice. If anything, the employees should be looking to their union to pick up the cost of their healthcare during the strike, not the taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Why is it so hard to understand, that benefits are tied to work, not to some entitlement. If they are not working they don't get paid or enjoy the benefits of working. I never quite understood how it became acceptable for striking workers to either get paid or get fully compensated for the time they are on strike. Going on strike has to have consequences.

Anonymous said...

#removerenee#removetorifliptheboard#makeswtgreatagain

Anonymous said...

#removerenee,#removetori,#draintheswtswamp

Anonymous said...

Labor contract mating dances are nasty. They often seem nastiest just before consummation. Workers walked off in one of the snowiest Februarys on record. They didn't walk out in summer. They played hardball with sharpened spikes, as is their choice. Nobody should be surprised when the other team in the negotiation sharpens their spikes in response.

Anonymous said...

Don't blame all the Commissioners. At least two of them are receiving no information about the strike, and have no input about decisions being made.

Anonymous said...

Outsource them and other departments! It's about time to lower the taxes on senior citizens!

Anonymous said...

Don't blame all the Commissioners. At least two of them are receiving no information about the strike, and have no input about decisions being made. It is the Town Manager running this travesty.

concerned citizen in SWT said...

This is yet just one of the many "concerns" that SWT taxpayers should be watching. The BOC has been non-transparent on many items while the residents have been questioning. I truly don't know if the residents are either expecting their elected official to "do their jobs" or they have been fast asleep (I was until I started attending BOC meetings 6 months ago). How about the DCED required audits that have not been completed or filed with the PA Department of Community and Economic Development since 2012. I find it almost criminal that an audit has not been completed since the $1 million employee embezzlement in 2012. Right to Know forms have been submitted with both SWT and DCED...looking to see who "made this agreement with the township". To be told by the BOC that SWT has been "EXCUSED" from the 2012 thru 2015 audits because "too much time has past" is NOT an acceptable answer to us residents. They are only required to proceed with submitting 2016 to present. According to the BOC 2016 has been completed and 2017 (is almost done).
President Tori Morgan is up for re-election. FYI - She has been on the BOC since 2008 (which means she has been present before, during, and after the employee embezzlement). I believe I saw somewhere that the BOC is responsible for overseeing the financials...aren't audits considered financials? It is time for a change. We need to clean house.

Anonymous said...

when you work, you get paid, when you don't, you don't.

Anonymous said...

Can someone share the reasons for the Strike? What are the specifics of the negotiations that caused the strike? Perspective from both sides???

Helene said...

Bernie, I know absolutely nothing about this labor dispute and do not have a position on it. However, I did handle labor negotiations as part of my 30+ year career. Withholding benefits to striking employees is standard fare in every negotiation. Benefits come with "working" on the job. Labor's leverage is that management needs them on the job. Management's leverage is withholding pay and benefits until labor comes back. Without that what leverage does management have? Unions are well aware of this as a consequence of striking. While it may seem cruel especially during a pandemic, it is basic Labor Negotiations 101. Let's hope they can work it out as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with the first two comments - the union members made a CHOICE to go on strike during the heart of winter and a pandemic. Why should the Township (in other words, the taxpayers) fee the need to give them ANYTHING while this is going on? If the Union called the strike, let the union pay strike benefits, including health insurance, for the members.

michael molovinsky said...

As some may know, I have been advocating for Wehr's Dam since 2014. The fact that it hasn't received one dab of cement since then, and will now cost the taxpayers more to repair is a direct consequence of Tori Morgan. She cooperated with the Wildlands Conservancy, pre and post referendum, to demolish the dam. I agree with Concerned Citizen @9:30 that she has been there far too long.

The other commissioner up for re-election is Joe Setton. He has failed to assert himself in any meaningful way.

David Kennedy has announced his candidacy, he has my support.

On my blog I discuss another problem commissioner, Matt Mobilio.

Anonymous said...

The contract ended in December. Not quite sure how you would think they would wait until summer to make their choices.

Anonymous said...

They were not paid by the township when they were on strike for your information.

Anonymous said...

The contract ended in the heart of winter. The township chose not to negotiate in a timely manner not the men/union. Always good to know the facts before judgement is made.

Anonymous said...

We need to remember that Health Care is not a right, its a benefit. There is no mention of health insurance in our Bill of Rights. Every year I renew my benefits package, not my rights package.

Buy the ticket, ride the ride.

Anonymous said...

Township had contractors covered. Even when they could have brought back the workers chose to continue with contractors. Facts unknown to all making comments.

Anonymous said...

"Outsource them and other departments! It's about time to lower the taxes on senior citizens!"

You should be attending Parkland School District and making this demand. I'll bet South Whitehall Township makes up less than 10% of your tax bill and they provide great services such as plowing, park maintenance, police etc..

Anonymous said...

Really MM? Wehr's Dam?? Come on Man!

Anonymous said...

SWT lost an excellent manager because the BOC choose to not make the embezzlement public years ago for fear of blame. The initial coverup was and is unacceptable. Tori Morgan needs to go.

Anonymous said...

God this is so sad. This post is so riddled with inaccuracies and misstatements if the Commissioners weren't public figures they'd have a strong case for defamation against this blog and Osborne.

Let me guess, this post won't make the cut....

Anonymous said...

With the cost of employees and benefit time, it may be more cost effective to the tax payer to reduce overall staff and supplement with contractors going forward.

Bernie O'Hare said...

4:12, there is nothing remotely close to libel in this post. Your hollow threat is exactly what I expect from public officials who hate scrutiny of any kind, as evidenced by your complete lack of transparency in your not-so-public meetings. Get over yourself.

michael molovinsky said...

anon@3:03, normally I wouldn't reply to an anonymous. But here's why Wehr's Dam is relevant. In 2016 the voters of SWT by referendum voted to keep the dam. Rather than proceed with the then nominal necessary repairs, the commissioners allowed the Wildlands Conservancy to interact directly with the Pa. DEP, and complicate the repair. Their (Wildlands & Commissioners) intent was to drive up the cost, to get out from the referendum's mandate. While I documented these communications, the Morning Call refused (and still does) to print the story. Wehr's Dam is representative of the way the commissioners bully township issues.

Brad Osborne said...

4:12, please let us know what you feel is inaccurate? This is an open forum and discussion is welcome. I started this blog because I felt not enough media coverage was given to the affairs of South Whitehall. That’s not a criticism of the media, just an observation. The local media is constrained with staff & resources, so that’s the reality we’re living with today. But South Whitehall, especially with the upcoming election, is much too important to not be spotlighted.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a Right To Know request go in and list all the employee salaries. That would open eyes as I bet the public works employees are all int he bottom 1/4 of the salaries and the white collar administrators are in the top 10 and combined their salaries dont equal the public works total and the public works union is only 29. More police officers than public works employees. Crime must be bad, no wonder the roads suck.

How many people actually work for South Whitehall.

Anonymous said...

Don't be stupid- they could have waited.

DEANA said...

I WOULD NOT TAKE ANY OF THE ANONYMOUS PEOPLE POSTING SERIOUSLY, THEY COULD BE THE "SAME" PERSON GETTING THEIR "JABS" IN !! IF YOU CANT PUT YOUR BIG GIRL OR BIG BOY PANTIES ON AND SAY WHAT IS ON YOUR MIND, WITH YOUR NAME !....THEN DON"T BOTHER. A FEW NEW COMMISSIONERS THIS SPRING HOPEFUL SHOULD BE PICKED ! NEED NEW BLOOD. THERE IS A TERRIBLE SPIDER WEB BEING SPUN BETWEEN A FEW COMMISSIONERS..AND THE MANAGER..

DEANA said...

THE ANONYMOUS PEOPLE ON HERE SHOULD PUT THEIR BIG GIRL AND BOY PANTIES ON AND PUT THEIR REAL NAMES...COULD BE THE "SAME" PERSON GETTING THEIR JABS IN...

Brad Osborne said...

You have made a very valid point, and for that reason I chose my words carefully when I said “the majority of the commissioners.” It is quite obvious to me, and perhaps many of the residents who have watched this board in action in the past year, that the predominance of the 3-2 decisions on major issues, is not a coincidence. It is an intentional result of those in the majority to control the outcome without inclusion, discussion and input of the whole board. Not a good way to govern at any level of government.

So . . . you may disagree, but I don’t think the Township Manager is to blame. By ordinance, the Township Manager takes her/his direction from the board. The Township Manager reports to the full board. That means the Board of Commissioners is responsible for everything that the Township Manager does. Everything.

Brad Osborne said...

Deana, I agree with you concerning using real names. I started this blog to start meaningful, constructive dialogue. The unwillingness for some respondents to identify themselves, especially if they are being combative, diminishes their argument and probably should be ignored.

Brad Osborne said...

You mentioned the president of the board . . , perhaps Commissioner Morgan will address these issues in a response? If she chooses to do so, I will require respectful responses, if any, in return.

Brad Osborne said...

Helene, you have provided very good insight into management/union negotiation dynamics. Having been at the table in both private and public sector negotiations, I concur that withholding benefits during a strike is “standard fair”, but I think that may happen more often in the private sector than in the public sector. Thankfully, the negotiations I have participated in never devolved to that point, and I am very glad for that. That is never a good scenario.

However, my strong concern with this negotiation that I hope I was clear on, is that the township gave the union just 2 days notice that their health care benefits would end, and those 2 days were weekend days. What chance did they have to find alternatives in 48 hours?? Be tough, ok, but be fair. This was not fair, in my opinion.

Brad Osborne said...

Commissioner Mobilio, it did make the cut, and you are welcome to offer your comments and set the record straight, as you see it.