Short-staffed Public Works Department pleads for higher pay

Published 10:38 pm Thursday, February 3, 2022

Public Works Department employees, led by its assistant operations director, called on city staff and City Council to raise their pay as it struggles to hire and keep people.

The Rev. Karl Marshall Sr., with more than 30 of his employees behind him as he addressed council during its Feb. 2 meeting, said his staff was woefully underpaid even as he and his employees ensure the department delivers on services. He spoke after council and City Manager Al Moor spent more than an hour discussing the proposed compensation plan for city employees, which has yet to be finished.

“When the discussion of a compensation plan began, our employees began buzzing about the possibility of an increase,” Marshall said. “Yet that enthusiastic chatter is beginning to change into frustration, and the mindset of the typical Public Works employee wonders if we even matter.”


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Marshall cited a survey showing the average pay in Suffolk is $15.65 per hour in noting Public Works has refuse workers “working diligently and faithfully” who make $11.91 per hour, just above the state’s minimum wage of $11 per hour, which went into effect at the beginning of the year.

“This is unacceptable,” Marshall said. “We have street maintenance workers who work faithfully for the salary of $13 an hour, and I can stand before you proudly and state that, while we may be delayed from time to time — and that’s by no fault of our own — no service, I repeat, no services from Public Works go lacking each day for the city.”

In the refuse department, it is down four operating positions, two refuse workers who work the back of the truck and a field supervisor, for which someone had to be pulled off a vehicle to serve in that capacity because of its importance.

“We start most days at a disadvantage where our refuse routes are concerned, more if we have people who call in and cannot make it,” Marshall said.

On Feb. 1, there were eight callouts and seven open positions among the refuse staff, putting that department 15 people short before the workday had started, Marshall said, forcing it to lean even more on those who he described as the heart of the department, those making the least money.

“Public Works is not asking for special treatment,” Marshall said. “Public Works just wants to be treated in a fair and equitable manner.”

On the roadway side, Marshall said it is down 34 positions — 19 street maintenance workers and 15 heavy equipment operators.

He called on council to remember Public Works employees as it completes the study.

“We cannot keep people,” Marshall said. “Honorable City Council, the statistics bear out the need for our employees to receive fair financial treatment.”

Most council members, including Mayor Mike Duman and Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, said they were surprised to learn of the sub-$12 per hour pay of some Public Works employees. All agreed on their need to be paid more.

“That blows my mind,” Fawcett said. “That really does. When we have other agencies out here getting $15 an hour to pick up a box, this is absurd. This is crazy. This is below poverty level, $11 an hour. Wow. Good gravy.”

Duman said Marshall made a compelling case for higher pay for his employees.

“I’m sure this will be part of the conversation, also,” Duman said, “when we look at the compensation plan.”