CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - For months, we followed tree trimmers for Cleveland Public Power.
Instead of trimming trees, we often found them snoozing on city time, hiding their city vehicles behind a Steelyard Commons' clothing store or tucked away under a remote highway overpass.
The workers can be seen taking a good old "Cleveland Public Power Nap."
We shared our surveillance with Cleveland Utilities Director Robert Davis, who was not amused. "We take this very seriously. I take this personally. It is disheartening to see it. And I can assure you going forward, they will be held accountable" said Davis during an interview.
And held accountable they were. Two weeks after the interview with Director Davis, all three tree trimmers were fired. Luke Workman, Patrick Smith and Ta'Jahnae Buchanan all let go for "fraudulent conduct and misuse of city equipment."
But after the dozing workers were dismissed, was it someone here at City Hall, who was asleep at the switch?
After the tree trimmers challenged their discipline, the case went before an arbitrator. The arbitrator concluded that Director Davis, during his interview with Cleveland 19, had already made up his mind to fire the workers before they even had their disciplinary hearings. "I'd like to thank Cleveland 19 for bringing this to my attention, so that we can move forward with disciplinary action" said Director Davis.
The arbitrator is even more critical of CPP's Labor Relations Manager, Frances Paster, who was responsible for following up on the allegations. The arbitrator says Paster and the City "did not conduct a thorough, comprehensive or fair investigation" to determine the "truthfulness of misconduct" that we reported. He goes on to say the city pursed a "cursory investigation devoid of substance." An investigation designed "primarily to substantiate a predetermined result" concluded the arbitrator.
"While the WOIO investigative report should have been the beginning of a thorough and equitable investigation, it essentially ended up being the substantive whole of the City's position. While (Frances) Paster (CPP Manager of Labor Relations) was assigned to follow up on the accusations brought to light in the media segment, Paster's investigation was cursory at best. She made minimal effort to seek out and interview witnesses, provided no documentary or other proof substantiating the allegations, and in fact, failed to provide the Union with requested data prior to the pre-disciplinary hearing."--Arbitrator's Reward
Even though the arbitrator says the workers "admitted to engaging in some wrongdoing" in their hearings, their grievance was "sustained." The workers got their jobs back, along with full pay. A total of $95,000 plus benefits we estimate based city documents showing their pay rate and hours.
"I am confronted with a situation of admitted wrongdoing, albeit from an investigation flawed from its inception and in violation of the parties' CBA. Although strongly conflicted, I am left with no alternative but to concluded that the City failed to meet the just cause standard because it did not conduct a thorough, comprehensive or fair investigation to determine the truthfulness of the misconduct purportedly set forth in the (Carl) Monday investigation report."-- Arbitrator's Reward
Basically because of the city's snafu, the dismissed workers received an eight-month vacation compliments of CPP customers and taxpayers.
One more thing. After our story aired, Utilities Director Davis promised to hold everyone accountable for the dozing CPP workers. Including their bosses. "These particular employees will be held accountable all the way up the chain. Supervisors and whoever might be responsible for not knowing where they're supposed to be" said Director Davis. But have any supervisors been disciplined? We're still waiting for an answer from the city as we follow the snooze fest at Cleveland Public Power.
CPP refused our request for an on-camera interview with Director Robert Davis for comment and we've reached out to Frances Paster for comment. In a Cleveland Public Power statement, a spokesperson says they are "disappointed and disagree with the arbitrator's ruling" but confirmed the tree trimmers are back on the job.