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By: Jim Perry
Former Human Resources Manager at Niagara Falls Water Board
In August I retired. The reason for that was because there were some unethical and illegal practices going on that I refused to take part in. I retired with an announcement that I was reporting these issues to the governing authorities. This led the Chairperson Pat Brown who, in my opinion should never have been seated in that position, to give me an extended “vacation at no charge.” No doubt fearful that I would collect my work diary with all of my notes of activities that were going on there when I left. Nevertheless, this did not stop me from moving forward and going to both the State and Federal agencies.
A few weeks before Brown’s arrival, with his appointment Councilman Bill Kennedy had the foresight to see what was going on and publicly spoke out. The Gazette made note of Kennedy’s concern, but the other members of the City Council did nothing.
Back in 2017, when I arrived at the Water Board, there were so many issues I just prioritized them, rolled up my sleeves and went to work. First up was taking care of the rank and file. The unions had gone five years with no raises and contract talks had been at a standstill. Relations between the organization and the unions were at an all-time low. It is never a good idea for an organization to have its management and labor at each other’s throats.
As I sat down with the labor leaders, we worked together and hammered out a decent contract that was reasonable. It had built-in modest increases over the years it covered. It was modeled after most private sector contracts. The Agreement was not one sided. The union members, being citizens of the city, like the rest of us were sensitive to the overall effect it had on the cost of operations. Actually, from the perspective of the organization, it was a cost neutral contract. I do not normally speak publicly about bargaining negotiations but after what happened last night at the Water Board meeting, I wanted to set the record straight. I think the people of this city need to know the truth and we quit with the bullshit theatrics and the backdoor politics.
Last night at the Board meeting Patrick Brown, the Chairperson appointed by the City Council had the audacity to throw the Water Board staff under the bus. One of the things he commented on was the excessive amount the union employees were making. When I heard this, I could not believe it. Most union employees that work for the Water Board live week to week. They do not make the kind of money Brown and his family make by milking the tax payers of this City or other municipalities. The average union employee at the Water Board takes 20 years to reach the top of their pay scale. Only then, they make wages comparable to what other workers in industry are making. The skilled trades make less per hour than they would if they worked construction. We employ a relative few skilled trades and before they are considered for employment, they must be journeyman. Unlike some of the local factories, the Water Board does not sponsor trades for their apprenticeship, they only hire journeymen.
While Brown has been the NFWB Chair, he renewed the contract of a patronage job for a person whose position was made up specifically for her, and another patronage position was added to the staff. Both of these jobs were not needed, and it was openly stated were not wanted by the Executive Director and by me. But one was a relative to a board member and the other was a political pay back, so they got the jobs.
Neither of those people are qualified and both make more money than the average union employee, yet Brown has the audacity to pick on the rank-and-file workers who are working shift work, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week including holidays, with the responsibility for providing us all with safe, clean drinking water. They are also required to respond to breaks and floods at any hour of the day or night and work through storms and blizzards. Years ago, before I went to work at Goodyear, I worked as a member of the outside maintenance crew. That job is not a job for someone who doesn’t like to get dirty or is worried about getting cold, chilled to the bone, or have to literally walk-in crap (aka human waste). And Brown says they get paid too much at $14.00 per hour? Really?
Oh one more thing, as the Water Board had a project to migrate a computer system, they had a project manager. Brown and Larkin took it upon themselves to go off and hire someone else to oversee the project which did no more than add cost to the project. I can not confirm it but I have been told, the person hired to oversee the project was a relative. (Go figure)
These things I am saying are all factual and anyone of you who are working at the Water Board, knows who I am talking about. In addition, some of these workers are harassed and intimidated by a couple of Board members just because they won’t play in their sick little game. While I was there, I was ordered to terminate two employees that did not deserve to be terminated, put a camera over the workstation of another employee to “freak her out” and to not give a person an assignment, even though he deserved it. This is the kind of harassment these workers have to put up with from a State Agency that is supposed to be preaching a harassment free workplace. I did refuse to do these things. I will not treat people like that. And because of that, I have been told, Pat Brown says I am owned by the union? Well, if that is what he wants to believe – OK, If treating people with dignity is wrong, then I am going to be wrong all day. It is especially people like Brown, Forester, and now that I guess Larkin has joined them you can put her in the pot too that have kept this city from developing into what it should be.
Over the years, the NFWB has been very prudent handling their budget process. Unlike the City, that spent millions of dollars outsourcing work and for consulting fees, the Water Board made an attempt to try and keep what we could in house as it was cheaper to do it ourselves, that is until we had a couple of Board members start to meddle in things. This past year I had argued with Brown because we needed to hire a backhoe operator. Instead of hiring one, he held off for months. In the meantime as he, Forester, and Larkin, refused to give their approval to hire, we had to pay premium rates for an operator. When I confronted Brown his comment was – ‘ $36,000 is nothing in the larger scope of things’ – thinking like this is one reason why the city is in dire straits now and trying to get as much money from the Water Board as it can. They are trying to back charge the Water Board for years ago because they are saying the Water Board didn’t pay the City enough money.
Perhaps Brown should stay at his accounting firm because he has demonstrated he surely can’t work with people. These are the politics that are going on under your nose in this City. You have two people on that Board at this moment fighting for the right thing, that is Gretchen Leffler and Renae Kimble. As long as I have been associated with the Niagara Falls Water Board, I have seen them do what they thought was best for the City of Niagara Falls.
This has nothing to do with the rate increase. It is pure grandstanding and politics NF style. It is time you use your voting power and let your City Council know enough is enough. Write and call your City Council representative – Recall Pat Brown. You should recall Nick Forester too but Restaino won’t listen so I won’t even recommend that.