By Joyce M. Miles

A longtime Community Pride volunteer walked off the job this week after the Common Council settled a union grievance by assigning a city worker to the program.

Harry Green, who supervised and worked alongside groups of Community Pride participants Saturday mornings for nearly six years, has informed primary organizer Joe Kibler that he’s not doing it anymore.

“If the city’s gonna pay somebody to do what I’m doing for free, let them do the work,” Green said. “I quit.”

Community Pride is a City Court-ordered program in which young people are assigned community service for the city. It’s managed by adult volunteers who supervise work crews, line up jobs and transport the crews to and from work sites.

Kibler, who also is the city’s alderman at large, routinely lines up work, from mowing grass and shoveling sidewalks for the elderly to picking up garbage along roads and sprucing up public grounds.

Every so often, the program draws the ire of the local unit of AFSCME, the union representing city streets/parks employees. Members get testy when they think Community Pride crews are doing “their” city work — a no-no, according to their contract.

AFSCME filed a grievance against the city last month after Community Pride crews raked Outwater Park before the annual Veteran’s Day ceremony. It wasn’t the first complaint filed in the service program’s six-year history.

The Council’s personnel committee settled the grievance — and wiped out a second complaint not related to Community Pride — by approving a standing order that assigns a streets department employee to Community Pride for four hours every Saturday.

The employee, drawn weekly from the department’s overtime list, will drive a city truck to work sites and perform other union-claimed duties as directed by Kibler. The employee will be paid 1.5 times his hourly rate since he’s working on a Saturday.

Kibler says he’s as irked as Green by the ruling.

“It’s a slap in the face to the volunteers,” he said. “Maybe it sounds corny, but we do this for the good of the city, not because there’s something in it for us.”

Green, whose wife is former alderwoman Phyllis Green, insisted Community Pride does not take work from the union, because it’s doing tasks that city crews don’t get around to: shoveling sidewalk along the Market Street hill, picking up litter along Water Street, weeding at the wastewater treatment plant.

“Saying we do union work is (nonsense),” Green said. “When we do the dirty jobs, they sure don’t complain. ... The mayor screwed up. He’s pacifying them.”

The settlement is not a new concept, according to City Clerk Richard Mullaney. Before Community Pride was created in the early 2000s, the sheriff’s work release program routinely did service in the city and, because of union concerns then, a streets employee was assigned to accompany the crew each time. Phyllis Green lined up that work and later did the same for Community Pride.

Within the past few years, automatic Saturday escort of volunteers by a city worker fell by the wayside, Mullaney said, and the personnel committee thought it best to revive the practice.

“It’s a way of ensuring we don’t infringe on the Department of Public Works’ work,” he said. “DPW may or may not rake leaves on a regular basis, but the fact is, parks maintenance is their job. The question has come up before, and the committee’s thought was, let’s just sidestep a protracted argument about (it).”

Committee chairman John Lombardi said placing an employee at Community Pride’s disposal should help the program. The employee can drive a truck, run a wood chipper and perform other tasks that the program itself doesn’t have the means to do.

Plus, Lombardi said, Kibler freely admits that he tends to skirt the line of bargained-for work and hope AFSCME doesn’t challenge it.

If AFSCME takes a stake in the program, Lombardi said, “Now Community Pride has the ability to do bargained-for work like raking leaves, because a (union member) is getting paid, so they don’t have a complaint. ... I thought (bringing in a member) would give Joe some more leeway in what he can do, more leniency.”

Mayor Michael Tucker, who approved the settlement offer, says he doesn’t understand why Harry Green is so offended by it that he’d quit volunteering.

“This is exactly the way it worked when Phyllis oversaw the (sheriff’s work release) program,” Tucker said. “And Harry’s a union guy too. He knows the drill.”

Had Tucker not OK’d the settlement, Mullaney said, AFSCME would have the right to seek arbitration — and if the arbitrator agreed the city allowed volunteers to do bargained-for work, he could order back pay for all affected members as compensation.

Contact reporter Joyce Miles at 439-9222, ext. 6245.

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