IRVINGTON, NJ —
According to Caleb Bryant, shop steward of Service Employees International Union Local 617, he and the 12 Irvington Housing Authority maintenance workers scheduled to be fired in favor of privatization on Friday, May 6, have been given a reprieve.
“The layoff had been postponed indefinitely for now,” said Bryant on Thursday, May 5. “We were informed about the postponement last Thursday, April 28, at a meeting with the union, the lawyer for the union and the Housing Authority and its lawyer.”
“This is only a temporary situation, until we receive word that the layoff is called off entirely,” said Bryant on Tuesday, May 10. “We are the same ‘unskilled workers’ who were working out of our titles as building maintenance workers, actually performing tasks such as plumbing, apartment turnover, repairs, electrical, masonry, etc. The maintenance staff passed our Physical REAC inspection from HUD with an 82. So how are we unskilled?”
Bryant went on to state, “When this layoff was first proposed, Director (David) Brown said it was for financial reasons.” But he said Brown later changed his rationale.
“Once that was questioned and he could not prove that this plan was better for the Housing Authority and could save money as well, he changed to the notion we are unskilled,” said Bryant. “But with civil service, it’s about finances, not our skills.”
This is the second time the Irvington Housing Authority has changed the termination date. Back in March, Wednesday, April 20, was to be the last day of work.
But according to IHA employee Rasheed Willis, the employees were given an extension to Friday, May 6, after Bryant and the union filed a formal complaint with the state Public Employees Relations Commission.
“The layoffs were postponed because they weren’t ready document-wise for the hearing,” said Willis on Tuesday, April 19.
Bryant confirmed the reason for the layoff reprieve was “the union filed a case with PERC and the authority’s lawyer was not ready for a preliminary” hearing on the matter. Brown declined to comment Tuesday, May 10, about the latest layoff postponement.
Mayor Tony Vauss said, if necessary, his administration could share the Irvington Public Works Department employees with the town’s federally funded low income housing provider to ensure continuity and the continuation of services for IHA residents.
But Vauss said that would only be a last resort. Since Bryant said the layoffs have been postponed indefinitely, the township does not have to share its manpower and services.
But Delores Calloway, an IHA resident and former member of its board of directors, said she is taking the news about the maintenance workers’ layoff reprieve “with a grain of salt.” She said she has adopted a wait-and-see attitude about the whole thing.
“(Brown) will tell you one thing, then go do something else,” said Calloway on Tuesday, May 10. “He didn’t put it in writing that the layoffs are postponed. He needs those boys right now, because they need to pass inspection from HUD. As soon as the inspection is over, he might still lay them off.”
Calloway recalled how Brown seemed to have already replaced Bryant and the other workers with private contractors, as Willis said they would. But she said the new contractors aren’t doing a better job than the old maintenance employees.
“They did a half job,” said Calloway. “Why would you cut the grass without killing the little weeds first? Where are you getting the money to pay these contractors that you’re bringing in (that) don’t know what they’re doing? Where are you getting the money from? Half of the contractors they bring in here don’t know what they’re doing.”
“I don’t trust that layoff postponement,” said Calloway. “We’ll find out at the commissioner meeting on Wednesday, May 11, at 5 p.m.”
In the meantime, Willis alleged that Brown has already been accepting bids, Request For Procurements, Request For Qualifications and “other procurement solicitations,” even though he and the other 12 current maintenance employees are still employed.