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Committees hear from striking workers, others

The chairs of the Selma City Council Public Works Committee, Administrative Committee and Recreation Committee – chaired by Selma City Councilmen John Leashore, Carl Bowline and Michael Johnson, respectively – met Wednesday afternoon in a packed council chamber to hear the concerns of City of Selma Public Works Department employees, as well as workers in other city departments, related to the ongoing “sickout.”

Leashore opened the meeting by stating that council members had no clear understanding of why Public Works Department workers had walked off the job, only what they’ve been able to glean from newspaper articles.

“We really don’t know why you guys are not at work,” Leashore said to department employees in attendance. “Our city is in a hot mess. Our city does not deserve the condition that it is in now. However, we do know the employees of the city are valuable employees. We do know a lot of you guys are overworked and underpaid.”

Leashore stated that the Recreation Committee had been included in Wednesday’s meeting because the corresponding department had been impacted by the “sickout;” likewise, the Administrative Committee was included because it oversees personnel.

“When it comes to the Recreation Department, we definitely need more employees as well,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that he “didn’t like, but went along with” allowing schools to utilize Memorial Stadium at no cost, only agreeing because the school system was doing the work of preparing the field in the absence of Recreation Department workers.

“That’s something we’re losing revenue on when we give it away,” Johnson said. “So we really need our employees back.”

Leashore then invited city employees to speak their peace on the matter and Public Works Department Director Steven Hendrieth was the first to heed the call.

Hendrieth stated that, despite a backlog of work, Public Works employees have been on the job and no “sickout” had ever been organized.

Hendrieth bemoaned the lack of adequate pay and the poor condition of department equipment, saying that some in his department are forced to “pick up cans to make ends meet.”

“Those guys have never, ever complained,” Hendrieth said. “It’s a blessing they’ve been here this long.Whatever you do, look out for them, because they’ve been looking out for us for 30 years or more. I guarantee you’ll reap the benefits.”

Leashore asked Hendrieth if reports that some workers had returned to work but were not working were true – Hendrieth replied that it was not.

Another Public Works Department employee stated that the department was “not on sickout” and calling any assertion to the contrary “a lot of lies.”

Recreation Department Director Terry Jackson also spoke and lamented the fact that his department catches “more hell than anybody” with no talk of how hard employees are working.

“Every event…we’ve got to stay there,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter what time they leave. We’ve got to do the work in the morning at eight o’clock. We get blamed for stuff, but we don’t ever get no credit.”

Responding to a question from Leashore, Selma City Tax Collector Kim Lewis stated that her office was never involved in the alleged “sickout,” but was out of the office when the action began.

Lewis also noted that her office was closed to people seeking garbage exemptions when the “sickout” was in its first days, but that was due to the fact that the hack of city computer systems have left her with a backlog of items of higher priority.

“We take pride in what we do,” Lewis said. “We’re going to continue to do that but, at the same time, give us what we need to function. Until my office is fully functional, we’ll be still at a standstill.”

Other employees voiced similar concerns, but Pastor Christopher Minter was the first citizen to speak.

“We’re tired of meeting,” Minter said. “We’re tired of talking about problems and we’re not solving problems. You were elected to run the city and it’s high time, past time, we get over the talking and you do what you got elected to do.”