West New York workers allege political retaliation

Employees' job security threatened, union rep says

Town employees took to the latest Board of Commissioners meeting to voice their concerns.
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Town employees took to the latest Board of Commissioners meeting to voice their concerns.

Municipal employees from several departments alleged during the public-comments portion of the Feb. 20 Board of Commissioners meeting that they are facing “harassment,” “retaliation,” and “bullying” related to the upcoming May 14 election.

West New York Mayor Felix Roque was at the meeting.

Several employees said it affects their ability to work and sense of job security.

Town workers appeared alongside their Communications Workers of America (CWA) Union representative, Jenelle Blackmon.

“The fallout has affected our members and your employees. They’re stuck in the middle of this fight and it is unfair.”– Jenelle Blackmon

“We understand there’s been a clear political divide among this camp since June 2018,” Blackmon said at the Feb. 20 commissioners meeting. Addressing the mayor, she said, “The fallout has affected our members and your employees. They’re stuck in the middle of this fight and it is unfair. We don’t want to be threatened or harassed to choose a political side.”

“Many of our members have had to retain attorneys, for harassment cases, where, Mayor, you’ve said to our members that, come June, certain individuals may not be here anymore,” Blackmon said. “That’s been said over and over to our members, and it should not have been said.”

The office swap

Blackmon said that members of the cultural affairs department, who report to Commissioner Margarita Guzman, were relocated from their office in early December by Henry Marrero, Mayor Roque’s press contact.

“During the day-to-day course of work he’s given those employees directives on Mayor Roque’s behalf,” Blackmon said in a later interview. “The only proper protocol is for the mayor to contact the commissioner in charge of that department.”

Blackmon said that cultural affairs employees were moved to a ’10 x ’10 closet without desks or phones on Dec. 5, two days before the town’s 120th anniversary celebration and holiday tree lighting that they were coordinating.

After two months of complaints to multiple town officials, Cultural Affairs was moved back into its original office on the morning of Blackmon’s visit.

Long-awaited response

Blackmon said that she came to town hall from Trenton because she failed to hear back from any elected officials on the complaints that were filed.

“What’s the chain of command here?” Roque asked Blackmon. “You have a representative here, correct?”

Blackmon, restating that she was a CWA representative based in Trenton, said she “went through the proper channels” and filed complaints on behalf of union members as early as Dec. 14 but did not hear back from any officials after emails were sent.

Roque confirmed that complaints from Dec. 14 were sent to Jame Cryan, who left his post as town administrator in 2018. He said that he had just found out about “multiple issues this morning,” and believed he had fixed them since then.

In a brief argument with Blackmon, Roque then said he would refuse to report future complaints to Blackmon, and instead would be reporting further complaints to Kathy Kelly, the president of the union’s local post.

 

“I believe we fixed it this morning. At the end of the day, the buck stops with me. You are correct, I stand corrected, and we’ll work together.” – Mayor Felix Roque

“What I’m trying to say to you, ma’am, is there is an issue,” Roque said to Blackmon. “I believe in unions, we need to fix it. I thank you for being here, but the reality is they have to go through a chain of command before they force you to come here. I believe we fixed it this morning. At the end of the day, the buck stops with me. You are correct, I stand corrected, and we’ll work together.”

“I just want to clarify the issue here,” Blackmon said. “We filed grievances. We also held a labor management meeting with the representatives of this town, and they are supposed to address it. We also reached out to you directly; we did not hear back from you.”

Better work environment 

Luis Baez, Roque’s former chief of staff, and now the town’s program coordinator, said he was among those relocated to a different office.

After Roque said that he had just learned about the workers’ complaints that morning, Baez wasn’t buying it.

“Everyone in your office has been aware of this since the move. I would also like to suggest that this move was your idea.” – Luis Baez, Program Coordinator

 

“Mayor, you can choose to classify this move as either vindictive or inept,” Baez said. “You can also choose to classify your comment now that you only learned about this recently as a failure of your office, because everyone in your office has been aware of this since the move. I would also like to suggest that this move was your idea.”

Baez said he was not seeking anything beyond a work environment that allows him to do his job.

“I’m asking for a few things like the equipment I need to do my job from nine to five,” Baez said. “I don’t have a phone, a garbage can, a desk, a filing cabinet. I’m also asking for the respect I deserve as a civil service employee.”

For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.