It seems that the Town of Lewiston has mistakenly paid 16 workers at the Sewer Department a three percent cost-of-living raise since Jan. 1, 2014, that was not approved by the town board and not covered by contract and now the town wants the money back.
As you might expect, the union representing the workers is up in arms over the town's threat to use legal remedies to recover about $20,000 in total that the supervisor said was overpaid to the workers.
We learned of the conflict by anonymous email last week, apparently sent by some of the workers affected at the Water Pollution Controls Center.
The email, which contained an attachment, was sent to Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey and copied to the Niagara Falls Reporter and reads as follows:
Dear Supervisor Brochey,
The Town of Lewiston CSEA members have received your threat of pay cuts and paycheck withdrawal for previous cost of living raises.
In the seven months you have been in office, you have cut our Flexible Spending Accounts by 90% to 95%. You then blamed it on The Affordable Care Act which is a lie.
You are not the first town supervisor to declare war on town employees. It was previously done about 20 years ago by a Republican supervisor. This is when unions were first ushered in to Lewiston.
Employees simply got scared and did not know what to do.
Although that supervisor is long gone, the damage is still here today as our Lewiston town and village employees have all joined unions except for town hall.
Here is a cross section of the employees you are targeting at the waste water treatment plant: They are electricians, instrument persons, plumbers, mechanics, millwrights, machinist, welders, New York State licensed plant operators, truck drivers, construction builders, heavy equipment operators, landscapers, janitors etc.
Yes, they do it all.
If you check the job titles, you will find only operators and maintenance people working there. But they must do all of the above. All those job titles are packed into 16 dedicated town employees.
The plant and surrounding collection system must run 24 hours a day even on Christmas.
As the Lewiston employees try and weather the Brochey Storm, they will continue to do all the work listed above (and then some) and hope that this storm will pass. We have attached your letter sent this weekend.
The attached letter that was purportedly sent by Brochey was not signed by Brochey but by Town Attorney Mark Davis.
It explained what the issue was:
Dear CSEA Member:
I recently learned you received an improper 3% raise that went into effect on or about January 1, 2014. The raise was never approved by the Town Board and is therefore an illegal gift of public funds. As a result, the raise is voided effective immediately. Going forward, your rate of pay will immediately return to the 2013 level.
Additionally, the Town of Lewiston intends to recover the amount of the raise you have been receiving since January 1, 2014.Please contact Paul Kloosterman to discuss how you intend to repay these amounts. Please be advised that if we are not able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution, the Town will pursue all available legal rights and claims to recoup the monies wrongfully paid to you in an appropriate legal proceeding.
Very truly yours,
Mark C. Davis
During a weekend meeting with Brochey, he told the Reporter:
"I've been trying to negotiate with the town employees. They are not willing to work within budget constraints. The older guys are happy. They said to me 'we would never another find a job like this.' It is the younger guys who demand three percent every year. "I will tell them, as we face a $500,000 shortfall this year, based on the wasteful budgets of the previous administration, they have to play ball, They have a great job, And, I'll tell you, if they all walked off the job today, if I put an ad in the paper for those jobs, they would all be filled tomorrow."
Brochey said that wages for a "brand spanking new hire" is $21 per hour, plus health insurance, pension, holidays and sick days. Those with seniority earn up to $31 per hour.
Currently there is no contract.
Brochey said he was startled when he first learned last week that employees at the Water Pollution Controls Center got an unauthorized three percent raise.
They had gotten three percent raises in the past under contract.
But the contract expired and someone granted the raise without Town Board approval.
Technically it is on the supervisor's watch and he speculated that his secretary, Barbara Cich, or junior accountant Katelyn Allan might have made a mistake.
Brochey said, "I asked Mike Johnson, (the town's Internal Claims Auditor) who approved it and he said he didn't know. There's a lot of amnesia here. All I know is that they got a three percent raise and it was unauthorized. I have stopped it as of the end of this week."
Just before press time, we received another email sent to Brochey ( we were copied also). It read:
Dear Supervisor Brochey,
It's a sad day in Lewiston to see the Town Supervisor blame everyone but yourself for telling one of your Hit Men in town hall to send out the attached letter to employees.
Then to blame women in town hall that have been there much longer than you and your squad is pathetic.
We hope you and your Hit Men can stop threatening town employees.
Can you at least leave the women in town hall alone?
They have it tough enough in this world full of Man Bullies such as yourself.