Volunteer work in Arnold park leads to union grievance
Melissa Charlton's organized volunteer efforts to remedy disrepair at the 18th Street Ball Field in Arnold led to a grievance filed by the union that represents city public works employees.
In December, a small group of residents who make up Arnold's Recreation Committee, which Charlton heads, received a $15,000 grant to improve the ball field, where several structures were in need of a new roof.
The nonprofit, volunteer committee is made up of Charlton, Dawn McKinley and her son, Craig McKinley.
Although not part of the city government, the group works to improve Arnold to make it more inviting for residents and visitors. Charlton's and McKinley's husbands serve on council.
The planned upgrades were made just as the city was working to host the annual Freeport International Baseball Invitational for the second year in a row. That event ended up being held at the James E. Swartz Sr. Memorial Field in Freeport in July.
The grant, given to the committee by the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, came with the caveat that the city match a portion of the funding, or about $5,000, with “in kind” payments. This means the labor provided by volunteers can offset the cost of the matching funds on a per-hour basis.
But that's where things get complicated.
At issue is an agreement between the city and its union laborers and whether the work being done at the park is “skilled labor” that should be done by members of Laborers Local 1058 instead of volunteers.
Charlton spoke during the public comment portion of the Sept. 12 council meeting, telling council and Mayor Karen Peconi that a grievance had been filed against her personally, not the committee she represents, for doing work in the city-owned park.
“Instead of trying to stop people who actually want to help the city, why don't you try doing your job as written in the Third Class City Code?” Charlton asked Peconi. “We, as a recreation committee, are tired of you trying to stop everything positive that we are trying to do.”
Peconi responded that before the grant money came in, she hadn't been notified about the committee's intent to apply for it and was unaware of the funding.
“I did not sign off on that; it came in under (former Mayor Larry Milito),” Peconi responded.
While the loan was issued in December, under Peconi's tenure, the issuance letter from the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County is addressed to Milito, who left office in January 2016.
On Sept. 15, Charlton said that it had been communicated to her by city employees they would not be able to help with the work remaining and that she should stop in her efforts to finish the park roofs.
According to City Manager George Hayfield, the contract with Local 1058 states that roofing work, such as that being performed at the ball field, does not qualify as skilled labor.
Hayfield said the grant in question was given with the assumption that the “in kind” portion would be facilitated by volunteers, not paid city workers.
Representatives from the union did not return requests for comment.
Councilman Phil McKinley, who oversees the public works department, said the city will have to respond to the grievance if there is any merit to it; however, according to Hayfield, the grievance in question falls outside the scope of the union's agreement with the city.
Despite the disagreement over who should do the work, Charlton said that as of last Saturday the roofs were complete and the project was under budget.