City workers air concerns

CITY OF HOUSTON FLAGHOUSTON – Changes to lunch and break times, paycheck disbursement and communication concerns prompted city workers to attend a city board meeting last week.

Eleven employees from city hall offices and the city shop attended the Nov. 5 regular board meeting and while not on the agenda, Mayor Stacey Parker and City Public Works Director Ricko Nichols allowed them to speak.

A city worker had initially placed his name on the agenda to speak, but took if off before the agenda was finalized.

“We will let you speak in the spot normally reserved for department head reports, if Ricko agrees to it,” said Parker. “I will recognize Johnny Spraggins to speak.”

Spraggins said Nichols introduced new rules for city employees about a month ago governing breaks, lunch and when employees could go to cash paychecks. He pointed out the city did not have an employee handbook and the new rules apparently did not apply to Nichols.

“You told us we couldn’t take breaks when we needed them, couldn’t take a break in a city truck and we had to clock out to go to lunch,” said Spraggins. “And we had someone tell us you said your day would be a whole lot better if you didn’t have to deal with idiots.”

Nichols said he was instructed by the board to make the department more efficient and treat everyone fairly.

“I have employees who bring their lunch and some who take a lunch break,” said Nichols. “I had one say it wasn’t fair for them to bring their lunch, eat for 15-minutes and then have to wait for everyone else to come back to work. I felt the only way to be fair was for everyone to have the same rules.”

Nichols said the break problem started when employees started taking a morning break at various times and it slowed work. He explained that employees in one truck driving to three different banks on payday also slowed down work.

“Is your problem with Ricko or with the new rules?” said Place 3 Aldermen Frank Thomas. “We tell Ricko what we want and it’s up to him to figure out how to do it.”

Alderman-at-large Barry Springer said the board does not make policy for departments and that is up to department heads. Springer said he had gotten complaints of city trucks sitting at local convenience stores at various times of the day.

Place 2 Alderman Shenia Jones said department head don’t have the same schedule at employees. Jones said communication works both ways and she urged employees to talk to Nichols about their concerns or contact her.

Place 1 Alderman Tony Uhiren said most workers in the room were paid better and had better insurance than many in the private sector.

“People get a state job and think they’ve got it for life,” said Uhiren. “We’ve told Ricko we want change and if he says you’ve got to change, you’ve got to change.”

Parker asked each employee to voice their concern. City Hall employees said they had no major concerns, they wanted all city employees treated with respect and were at Tuesday’s meeting for moral support.

Parker said the city was looking to create an employee handbook.

Tuesday’s discussion last almost 90 minutes.

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