The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 5, 2012

Union files grievance over job transfers

Randy Griffith

— The union representing three city workers whose jobs were outsourced is asking the Johns­town Redevelopment Authority to live up to the contract.

“It is a clear violation,” local union President Craig Cernic told the authority members Wednesday during a special meeting.

Cernic cited contract language guaranteeing no lockouts or transfers except through negotiations.

“They brought nonunion people into union jobs,” Cernic said.

The three employees, Sue Truscello, Brenda Saintz and Kelly Smith, staffed the Johns­town Regional Sewer office at 410 Main St. under a contract with the redevelopment authority, which owns the sewer operation.

On Friday, they said they were told at 3:15 p.m. to have all their personal belongings out of the office by 4 p.m.

The office reopened Tuesday with three new workers, employed by Software Systems Inc. The Allegheny County firm was awarded the contract for sewer billing earlier this year.

Truscello, Saintz and Smith were told to report to the Dornick Point sewage treatment plant for clerical duties.

On Wednesday, the redevelopment authority, without discussion, approved amendments to the Software Systems contract to cover additional staff.

Rates approved were $30 an hour for clerical work, and $40 an hour for supervisory work.

Authority Solicitor William Barbin said the three jobs include two clerical staff and one supervisor.

The city workers made between $9 and $18 an hour, Cernic said.

A second vote authorizes Frank D’Ettorre of the authority staff to work with city Manager Kristen Denne to create new jobs for the three displaced workers at the sewage plant.

Johnstown businessman Mark Pasquerilla questioned the sagacity of a contract amendment.

“Do you think it’s prudent to let out contracts until an audit is performed?” Pasquerilla said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Slow down in letting contracts until that is done.”

Cernic said his unit 17 of United Steel Workers Local 2635 has filed a grievance over the job transfers and nonunion replacements.

“Grievances are dealt with through the city,” Barbin said.

The authority has responsibility, Cernic said. Although authority Chairman Monsignor Raymond Balta told The Tribune-Democrat the office staffers wanted to remain city employees when the sewer operation was sold to the authority in 2003, Cernic said the union has asked for the opposite.

“Every contract for 10 years, we wanted to go to the authority,” Cernic said. “We technically work for whoever owns the plant. The city collects the money for our paychecks.”

Smith said the three workers were humiliated when their jobs were eliminated. With a combined 33 years in the office, the three had accumulated boxes of personal items, including Christmas decorations, lunch supplies and family pictures.

“They treated us like criminals,” Smith said, adding the locks on the door were immediately changed. The three have not been able to retrieve all of their personal property.

Their transfer culminated months of problems with the new software set up by Software Systems. The new company did not provide adequate training and had nobody available to help with specific questions.

“We didn’t even have phone numbers to call,” Smith said. “All we had was email.”

Response was unreliable, she added.

While the three were trying to learn the new system, it was kicking out erroneous bills. That meant the office staff also had to field phone calls and deal with irate customers fuming over $200,000 sewer bills.

Several meetings were scheduled with authority management, but D’Ettorre kept canceling meetings after the first one, Cernic said.

The three believe they were assigned to the sewage plant to prompt them to quit.

“I can’t stop at the grocery store on my way home because I smell,” Saintz said.