Union hits at firings, alleges discrimination

Jul. 07, 2014 @ 11:31 PM

Calling for new curbs on the city manager’s authority, a union is going to bat for two former Water Management Department employees who were fired late in 2013 and early this year.

The dismissals of Dwight Walker and DeCarlos Stanley are unjust and part of a larger, discriminatory pattern of “promotions, pay raises and disciplinary actions that disproportionately [a]ffect[s] black city worker employees within many city departments,” according to UE 150.

The group is a branch of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

Chapter Secretary Nathanette Mayo said her organization wants “an independent panel” to hear grievances from employees.

“There needs to be a process where there can be true justice in the grievance system,” she said.

A UE 150 news release elaborated, saying a review panel should be “under the authority and appointment by City Council, with union input,” and that officials should “prohibit the city manager from reversing grievance hearing panel rulings.”

The last point appears to contradict state law, which gives the manager full power over the hiring and firing of most city employees, the major exceptions being the city attorney and the city clerk.

Mayo and other UE 150 activists held a short rally outside City Hall on Monday. Walker and Stanley spoke, as did former County Commissioner Joe Bowser.

Bowser – known for clashing in the early 2000s with former County Manager Mike Ruffin in a personnel matter – said elected officials need to exert more oversight of local-government staffers.

“Administrators are not supposed to be the last word in this community, but obviously that is the case,” he said. “And we need to stop it because Durham is going backwards. It’s not going forwards with that mentality, it’s going backwards.”

He added, “People are being mistreated by city government all across the board, and something needs to be done about it.”

Walker, 62, and Stanley, 40, respectively worked as a conservation field assistant and crew chief in Water Management. Walker, who made $27,744 a year, was sacked in January. Stanley, who made $44,867 a year, lost his job in December.

Both had been on the city payroll for seven years.

Stanley said his ouster “was one of the first in this new era of what the Water Management Department’s got going on for us black citizens,” and “strikes intimidation into a black person’s job” in the department.

He added that “the attacks got harder on me personally” once he “started speaking out” and joined UE 150.

Walker said his ouster came after “a citizen” falsely accused him. He alleged administrators who reviewed his case want to restore him to duty, but were overridden by Bonfield.

City-issued termination letters – which are public record in North Carolina – give the supervisory side of the story.

Stanley’s letter said his ouster was for insubordination, specifically a string of incidents during a week in November that reached a climax when he refused an order to have his crew pitch in on the repair of a water-main break.

Walker’s letter attributed his dismissal to an ethics violation, specifically a false report to a supervisor that he’d slipped and fallen on ice at Water Management’s headquarters on Mist Lake Drive.

Security camera video didn’t back up his story, and the city’s Audit Services Department later said the filing of a false report had “demonstrated a lack of integrity and honesty” about an “injury incident.”

Both men had prior disciplinary histories. Stanley received a one-day suspension for alleged insubordination in 2009, and another, three-day suspension in October. Walker received a three-day suspension in early 2013 for an alleged violation of the city’s ethics policy.