When a small army of road crews left the city’s public works yard, the “hot box” of fresh asphalt in each municipal truck was full and the workers had a list of potholes needing repair.
At the end of the day, the asphalt was gone and workers confirmed their roads had been fixed.
Sixteen of those city work crews, however, were secretly followed by private investigators armed with video cameras and access to GPS tracking devices on the trucks one day in October.
The result of the covert surveillance was unveiled by the city Monday: Almost all those monitored were fired —29 unionized employees, with another two suspended without pay — accused of drawing a day’s pay for, in some cases, just minutes of actual work.
The workers are accused of spending the day in coffee shops, bars, at their homes and running personal errands.
“They weren’t patching roads, they would go and do personal things,” said Lloyd Ferguson, chairman of the public works committee.
“To do less than an hour’s work for a full-day’s pay is unconscionable. That’s why we had to deal with it so swiftly and so severely.”
He called it the largest purge of municipal employees in Hamilton’s history.
What happened to the asphalt is still under investigation.
A city worker told the National Post some employees dumped it into sewers or ravines, while others sold it to private paving companies doing driveway patching.
A Hamilton resident told the Post a door-to-door salesman from a paving firm bragged in the summer he would patch their driveway using genuine fresh asphalt, “the same stuff used by the city.”
Chris Murray, Hamilton’s city manager, said the case started through internal monitoring of productivity that flagged a problem. The city then retroactively checked records on GPS tracking devices installed on most of its work vehicles.
The GPS data showed some trucks had not travelled to the areas some workers had been sent to and for which employees had signed off at the end of the shift as having attended.
Outside investigators were called in, leading to the covert surveillance and further investigation.
“What our evidence reveals is that not only was that work not done, but they weren’t even working,” said Mr. Murray. “What they said happened and what in fact happened were two different things.”
Each of the 31 employees under suspicion was interviewed individually. Only two spoke truthfully about their activities, said Mr. Ferguson.
While the workers who came clean each received a 30-day suspension without pay, the remaining 29 were fired for neglect of duty, theft of time and breach of trust.
That almost all workers who were followed — randomly selected by investigators — were found to be breaching city expectations is concerning, said Mr. Ferguson, who is also an elected city councilor.
“It does beg the question and, believe me, members of council will be asking these questions of how rampant it is,” he said.
The city’s investigation is continuing and Hamilton police has been apprised of the situation, he said.
“There are allegations of asphalt dumping. They haven’t been proven. That’s the next stage of the investigation. Was there any criminal activity, selling asphalt out of the back of these things or dumping it? Where were the supervisors during this? Why didn’t they catch it?”
The workers’ negligence means more than just undeserved wages, said Mr. Murray. Without necessary maintenance being done to the city’s 6,500 lane kilometres of road, the long-term sustainability of its infrastructure is shortened and the unrepaired roads could be a safety issue or contribute to damage of private vehicles.
“Given the age of Hamilton and given the size of Hamilton, for the maintenance not to be done means we have to spend more money,” Mr. Murray said.
“This raises all of our awareness significantly. The expectation management has around performance is a very real expectation.”
That said, both Mr. Murray and Mr. Ferguson praised the “vast majority” of city workers as diligent, dedicated employees.
The fired workers are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 5167. The city expects CUPE to grieve the firings but calls to the union were not returned Monday.
Mr. Murray encouraged other municipalities to also look closely at their maintenance records.
“I would suspect that this is not unique to Hamilton.”http://www.theprovince.com/news/Hamilton+city+workers+fired+slacking+company+time/7888604/story.html#ixzz2JQWTWiSp