Niles union contract addresses emergencies

Niles mayor says it doesn’t apply to weekend work

NILES — The agreement between the city of Niles and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 506 contains a clause allowing an exception to the regular employee work week in the case of an emergency, but Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz said that exception couldn’t have been used to make employees come in Saturday to fix a water break.

The agreement between the city and the union sets the work week for employees in the water, street, light, sewer, wastewater treatment plant and cemetery departments as 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday inclusive, except for employees involved in continuous operations.

However, a clause allows for changes in emergency situations.

“Except for emergency situations, the work schedule shall not be changed…” reads section 17.04 of the agreement.

Mientkiewicz said that clause applies to continuation of a job, where hours must be extended due to an emergency situation — not to weekend work. He said emergencies would include situations like water breaks and power outages.

Last weekend, water from a main break ran for more than 24 hours when the city could not get enough employees to come in to safely make repairs.

Mientkiewicz said the city’s union contract does not mandate employees to come in on their day off, and when the city was made aware of a water break at the corner of Roberts and South Broadway streets Saturday morning, only two employees could be found to come in.

Three or four people are needed to safely fix a break, Mientkiewicz said.

“Typically this is a non-issue and typically we do have crews when we do respond and respond in a timely manner,” said Mientkiewicz of the weekend break. “We did what we could with the people we had.”

According to the union agreement, incentives are offered for callouts, which are defined as being recalled to work after the employee has completed his regular workday and has left the department.

A minimum four hours pay at an employee’s hourly rate is required for callouts of 90 minutes or less, according to the agreement. For more than 90 minutes, minimum pay of four hours at one-and-a-half times the hourly rate is required, “or the appropriate premium rate of pay for all hours worked, whichever is greater.”

The agreement stipulates that employees are required to remain at work until all work related to the callout has been completed. Mientkiewicz said Sunday’s repair to the water break is considered a callout.

On Saturday, water from the break was diverted into a storm drain to avoid causing damage to property, Mientkiewicz said. He said the city could have shut off the water, but that would have meant shutting off service to utility customers on the street as well, leaving them without water until Sunday morning. That was something the city didn’t want to do, he said.

“We certainly are doing something and we certainly are responding,” Mientkiewicz said.

He said employees are often on vacation this time of year, but the city tries not to schedule more than one person in a department off at a time. The water department also is down one laborer, Mientkiewicz said, with the position expected to be filled by Monday.