Durham County

Union says Durham's response to city workers robbed on the job falls short

City of Durham

After Durham city workers unclogging a sewer line were held up at gunpoint, the city issued a report admitting mistakes

The union doesn't think that goes far enough.

The city manager's office acknowledged mistakes in management's response to the Feb. 19 robbery, in a report from Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson last week. Three water management workers were robbed on Bedford Street in the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood while working on a sewer line. A supervisor did not report to the scene, and workers finished the job that night.

City Manager Tom Bonfield, in an email to City Council members last week, said noted shortcomings on the city’s part and gaps that need attention.

The Durham City Workers Union, UE Local 150, sent Bonfield a letter Wednesday, saying the report failed to include some information about the incident.

"While we do appreciate the admission of mistakes made, we feel it is very important to get a completely accurate view of the situation in order to fully remedy the harm done, and also ensure such traumatic events never happen again with city employees," the letter states.

The letter is signed by Durham City Workers Union President Max Davis, who works in solid waste, along with union stewards Romey Gaddy from water management, Donald Quick from Public Works, Daryl Brunson from solid waste and UE Local 150 President Nathanette Mayo.

Findings in the city's report included:

Poor or inadequate communication contributed to workers' stress, anxiety and frustration the night of the incident.

A supervisor should have reported to the scene.

An apparent gap exists in the legal protections and benefits provided through the Workers Compensation system for employees who suffer mental health impacts from a traumatic workplace event.

"As of the end of that [week of the robbery], workers had reported still receiving no legitimate apology," the union added.

The union is also calling for disciplinary action against management; "otherwise it appears they are getting away with neglecting their responsibilities without any real consequences, similar to those faced by front line employees for much more minor incidents."

The union says it generally support all recommendations in the city's report, but reiterated other demands, which include establishing more security for workers at night.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563; @dawnbvaughan
Related stories from Durham Herald Sun