Native Minnesotans are all too familiar with the ravages that temperature and moisture can play on asphalt roads. We even grade our potholes from mere fissures all the way up to an abyss which is capable of devouring a small vehicle and its driver. As the driver of a small car, I am constantly alert for these roadway gouges, in hopes of averting a flat tire or the need for yet another wheel alignment.
Much to my dismay in March, local Channel 5 KSTP investigative reporters caught a number of St. Paul public workers on tape, spending more time in convenience stores, and restaurants on breaks, than actually fixing potholes. The story culminated this week with 17 public works employees being disciplined for their extremely poor pothole performance. The discipline included eight letters of reprimand, two demotions, and a total of 59 days of suspensions without pay.
Local newspaper columnist Joe Soucheray described the public works crews, “…are more lawyered up than British Petroleum.” Grievances have been filed on all of the disciplinary actions by five different unions, and a federal U.S. Department of Labor complaint has been filed by the employees alleging a new bathroom break policy violates their rights. It begs the question, How many unions does it take to fill a Minnesota pothole? Answer: Five. One union official was quoted as stating, “I don’t think my workers did nothing wrong” instead blaming the problem on supervisors and inefficiencies in the workplace.
Obviously something went very wrong, and it took an investigative reporter to bring the problem to light. Workplace accountability, active supervision of employees, and better work site controls need to be implemented immediately. To the unions, I say: Use some common sense before you take these cases forward to expensive arbitrations. No one has much sympathy for lazy public workers in today’s challenging economy.