Orchard Park Town Board members said again Wednesday night they are not retaliating against a union president by proposing to reduce his code enforcement job to part time.
“It’s not an individual thing, it’s a position. I’m sorry that the particular individual that you are here to represent tonight is in that position,” Councilman Eugene Majchrzak said. “I don’t care if you have three people in your union or 300.”
At the public hearing on the tentative 2013 budget, the board heard from eight speakers criticizing the proposal to reduce a fire inspection position from full time to part time. White- and blue-collar union members, including highway workers wearing bright orange sweatshirts, attended the meeting in support of David K. Jensen, the code enforcement officer whose position would be reduced.
Jensen is president of the white-collar unit. Local 815, Civil Service Employees Association, has filed a charge against the town accusing it of cutting his position in retaliation for Jensen’s efforts to interest non-union workers in joining the union.
Orchard Park Fire Chief Chris Couell said the move to reduce the fire inspection budget will jeopardize first responders. Jensen enforces fire codes and alerts firefighters to potential problems in town buildings, such as unsafe floors, that they might encounter in a fire, he said.
“This is not fair to the firefighters who already deal with a very dangerous job and will now have to wonder if fire safety is up to code in the town,” Couell said.
Councilman David Kaczor said the board decided after lengthy discussion that it may need to make some changes in the department. Board members said they talked about the situation in a closed executive session, but when asked by The Buffalo News, they conceded that at least part of that discussion involving workload should have been in a public session.
Board members said that the number of inspections has dropped and that three full-time officers are not needed.
West Seneca’s code enforcement department has four full-time employees, including a clerk, the same as Orchard Park, and West Seneca is a much larger community, Kaczor said.
He noted that 73 percent of the town’s budget is “tied up in human capital,” paying for wages and benefits. He also said there are skilled workers doing nonskilled jobs, such as picking up illegal signs.
Rob Mueller, labor relations specialist for Local 815, said the best way for the town to prove the union wrong is to reinstate the position to full time.
“The charges will be withdrawn, and we will go on our merry way,” he said.
The board plans to discuss the budget and approve it at its work session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.