An administrative law judge has come up with a compromise plan for next week’s Public Employees Grievance Board’s mediation hearing involving more than 400 Division of Highways employees.
Last month, Highways attorneys asked the board to make an exception to state law giving state employees the right to attend their grievance hearings without having to take time off or use personal days.
More than 400 Highways employees have joined the mass grievance over the division’s failure to upgrade the division’s pay scales to make them more competitive with the private sector, as mandated under legislation passed in 2017.
Highways attorney Rebecca McDonald had asked the board to make an exception to the state personnel law, contending that the grievants intend to stage a “protest rally” outside of the Grievance Board’s offices prior to the Oct. 16 mediation hearing, and that having so many employees off work at the same time “will most assuredly effect the agency’s efficient operation.”
In the letter, McDonald asked the Grievance Board to give Highways supervisors discretion to deny leave time for grievants to attend the mediation hearing.
Instead, Grievance Board Administrative Law Judge William McGinley issued an order directing grievants to select four representatives from each of the 10 Highways Districts to attend the mediation hearing in person.
He said that limiting the number of in-person participants was necessary, “because there are so many grievants in this matter, and the Grievance Board has limited space to accommodate parties.”
McGinley’s order also directs Highways to provide “appropriate space” at its Charleston headquarters and at each of the 10 District headquarters for the other grievants to participate in the mediation via telephone conference call.
In the letter to the board, McDonald cited employee emails and Facebook pages calling for a “Highways Workers Tired of Waiting” rally outside the Grievance Board offices prior to the mediation hearing.
“The DOH is not required to grant paid time off for grievants to attend a protest rally, and submits that the intent of the rally has nothing to do with preparing for a grievance,” she stated in the Sept. 12 letter. “Rather, it is to impede the DOH’s operation, and to forward the agenda of Union Local 170.”
State Public Employees Union Local UE 170 field organizer Gordon Simmons confirmed at the time that union representatives plan to cheer on Highways grievants as they walk from the parking lot to the Grievance Board offices in the Schoenbaum Center on Charleston’s West Side prior to the hearing, but said that hardly constitutes a protest rally.
The grievance dates back to March, when an initial group of about 270 Highways employees filed a complaint contending that Highways had failed to comply with the 2017 law directing the division to address high turnover and high vacancy rates by revamping its hiring process and to rewriting job classifications to improve pay grades.
It contends that Highways officials submitted a proposal for substantial pay raises for bridge safety and maintenance workers, which the state Personal Board approved in December 2017, and implemented a new pay schedule for the lowest pay grades in August 2018, resulting in pay raises for about 130 of the more than 5,000 Highways employees, but has failed to address the vast majority of job classifications.