KULPMONT — Two members of the Kulpmont-Marion Heights Joint Municipal Sewer Authority (KMHJMSA) said they aren’t opposed to unionization of the workforce despite their questions and votes on the subject earlier this week.
Walter Lutz, who also serves as borough council president, voted no on a 4-1 motion Tuesday to allow authority workers to move forward in unionizing.
“I fully appreciate they have the right to unionize,” Lutz said Friday.
He said his decision to vote against the motion was due to wanting more information after learning letters sent to the authority board from the Harrisburg law office of Ira H. Winstock and the PA Labor Relations Board were identical to those sent to borough council regarding unionization of street department employees.
The street department and the sewer authority are separately filing to join the union, but met with union representation at the same time. Correspondence regarding the street department joining the union was read at Monday’s meeting.
Bob Fanella, a borough councilman who was appointed to the sewer authority board Monday, abstained from Tuesday’s vote, which came during his first meeting. Fanella said Friday he has worked both union and non-union jobs, but he abstained because he wanted to hear directly from the union representatives and have questions answered first.
Lutz and Fanella separately said they are unsure which employees in the street department and sewer authority would qualify for joining a union due to language stating “all management level employees, supervisors, first level supervisors, confidential employees and guards” are excluded per the Public Employee Relations Act.
One of Fanella’s biggest questions is if street department supervisor Bruce Graff would be excluded from joining the union as a borough employee due to the wording in the letter. He hopes to receive answers before borough council votes on whether or not to allow the street department to move forward.
There are currently four employees at the sewer authority and two full-time and one part-time employee in the street department, as well as an employee receiving worker’s compensation after being injured on the job in February 2017.
Graff serves as one of the full-time employees, and Fanella said he’d like clarification on whether he’d be able to be a member of the union.
Ad for workers
According to authority Chairman Bruno Varano, both departments decided to unionize to “protect their jobs” after hearing rumors that Lutz and Fanella intended on getting rid of workers. Both Lutz, who took exception to Bruno’s comments to that effect in a story in Tuesday’s News-Item, called it a “falsehood.” Fanella also refutes that claim.
Lutz said he’s never spoken directly with any sewer authority employee nor does he have intention of removing them from their positions; he said the same goes for borough workers.
In supporting his claims, Varano cites an advertisement for full- and part-time street department workers published in August, saying it was made in an attempt to replace the current employees.
“They were going to fire the whole borough crew. A little ad was made to hire all new borough workers,” Varano alleges.
Lutz and Fanella said that’s not true, either.
Fanella said the ad was posted after speaking with Graff and learning the department was short one person for the amount of work it was undertaking. An ad was placed seeking employees to potentially increase the department. Fanella said no applications were received.
Lutz said the intention was “to get some more people in for the borough and to see who was out there” to possibly increase the workforce.