A state representative from Trenton, along with a few West New York Town Hall employees, alleged political retaliation and bullying in the work place ahead of the May 14th municipal elections at last night’s board of commissioners meeting.
“The reason we are here today is to address this body on ongoing issues of political retaliation and harassment and bullying: it has to end,” began Communication Workers of America Local 1045 Staff Rep. Jenelle Blackmon.
” … Since June of 2018, our members have understood that there has been a clear political divide amongst this camp. We do understand that, but now, the fallout has now affected our members and your employees.”
Specifically, she alleged that three employees of the Department of Cultural Affairs have been moved into an office (which she described as a closet) that is just 10 by 10 feet wide and are constantly dealing with a hostile work environment.
Blackmon continued that although they were recently offered the office next door, it took months for that offer to come and that is unacceptable.
“Even today, it has been suggested to our members that they are pawns in this political fight. This is not only a violation of the law, but this is a violation of our contract. We will not stand for it … This is not effective government. This is not efficient government.”
When it was time for Mayor Felix Roque to respond, he and Blackmon engaged in a brief shouting match, with Roque insisting that the chain of command had to be followed in these types of scenarios.
Furthermore, he indicated that he had not been made aware of any of these complaints until recently.
“So let me ask you a question, refresh my memory here: when an employee has an issue, they go to their immediate supervisor, correct?,” Roque asked as the conversation started to take a more civil tone.
“Yes,” Blackmon answered.
“Mr. Luis Baez … you went to the supervisor, right,” the mayor questioned. “Whose their supervisor,” he continued as things began to get tense again.
“I know that they report to Commissioner Guzman,” Blackmon stated.
Guzman said that she and former Municipal Administrator Jamie Cryan had been made aware of the issues, but she was cut off as Baez interjected that Roque was currently the one in charge of Parks and Public Property.
Before it became a complete melee, Roque said he believes in unions and acknowledged that their were some issues that needed to be rectified – but the chain of command needs to be followed regardless of the circumstances.
“They need to go through the chain of command before they force you to come here and I did reach out to Mr. Lordo yesterday because I found out about it, that part – that there was multiple issues – and we fixed it – I believe this morning,” he explained.
” … At the end of the day, the buck stops with me, you are correct, I stand corrected, and we’ll work together.”
That wasn’t the end of it though, as several employees complained of a hostile work environment, though none as passionately as Baez, a former chief of staff to Roque.
“Mayor: you choose if you want to classify the move as vindictive or inept. You can also choose to classify your comment now, that you only learned about this recently, as a failure of the government that you established within your office because everyone in your office has been aware of this since the move,” he stated.
“I would also like to suggest that this move was your idea. If not, please point out whose idea it was.”
Gabriel Rodriguez, whose heading the New Beginnings West New York ticket against Team Roque, wore red yesterday evening, just like the dozens of other Town Hall employees in attendance, and said that he stands with them.
“Thank you for coming to West New York, thank you for standing with our employees. It does not matter what political side they’re on as long as they’re hear to serve this community … I can tell you right now, if people need space to work in, I will give my office to whoever needs it,” Rodriguez said, noting such a concept would need the approval of the mayor.
After the meeting, Roque told HCV that he feels there is a break in the chain of command that needs to be fixed immediately.
“There seems to be a break in the chain of command where we don’t have an acting administrator. We had an attorney saying he was gonna be the acting administrator, which is not legal for him to do, and at the same time, we don’t have somebody we can [hold] accountable for,” he said.
“We don’t have the personnel needed to handle all these grievances people have. I can tell you I’m in favor of making sure everyone’s treated with equality.”
Rodriguez wasn’t buying it though, claiming the chain of command was followed and the complaints still fell on deaf ears.
“We demand that they be treated with respect no matter what political affiliation they may have … I’m wearing red today, I stand with them no matter who they decide to vote for when they get in the booth.”
The meeting streamed live on our Facebook page and the portion regarding the union grievances can be viewed below: