Many Orchard Park town employees – union and non-union, department heads and elected officials – would get raises next year under the tentative budget.
But not David K. Jensen, a fire inspector in the building department who has worked for the town since 2003. Jensen’s position would go from full time to part time as the budget line goes from $51,405 to $25,229.
Jensen is president of the White-Collar Unit, and he set up a meeting to try to interest non-union employees in being represented by the Civil Service Employees Association unit just before the preliminary budget was released. The meeting was held a couple of days after the budget was released.
“Absolutely nobody showed,” said Rob Mueller, labor relations specialist for CSEA Local 815.
The CSEA filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board, charging the town with unfair labor practices by retaliating against the union president. The union believes non-union employees were intimidated by the cut in Jensen’s position.
Town Board members denied that Jensen’s union activity had anything to do with the reduction.
“Absolutely not,” said Councilman David Kaczor.
Councilman Eugene Majchrzak said if Jensen’s union activities were a consideration, then why didn’t the board figure out a way to eliminate the position?
“We made it part time so it could go back to full time when deemed necessary,” he said.
Board members said that there is a question of whether all the inspectors are necessary.
“If you go back five years ago, 100 houses were being constructed a year,” Kaczor said, adding that today about 25 houses are built each year.
Supervisor Janis Colarusso said the job used to be a part-time position.
“Every budget is a hard budget,” she said. “Sooner or later, there are positions that need to be cut.”
Part-timers are not represented by the White-Collar Unit, so if the position is downgraded, Jensen would be out as union president, Mueller said. He also would lose benefits.
There are one clerk and three inspectors, including Supervising Building Inspector Andrew Geist, in the department. Geist said in a letter to the Town Board that the department took a 25 percent cut two years ago, and he was hoping to return to the former level of staffing.
The fire inspector must inspect 61 public assembly buildings in the town annually, and another 273 buildings need an inspection at least every three years, Geist said in the letter. He told the board he would have to close the office if the clerk is on vacation or sick, because the inspectors often are out on the road during the day.
He also suggested the board consider raising inspection fees to help fund the department.
Among the increases in pay in the budget are varying percentages for department heads and non-union staff, as well as increases that have been negotiated in union contracts. Elected officials also would get raises and increases in stipends, if the budget is approved without any changes.
The decrease in the position has not been finalized. The board is conducting a public hearing on the budget at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the municipal center and must adopt the budget by Nov. 20.
“We’re still being open-minded on it, we’re still looking at it,” Kaczor said.