LAWRENCE — Grievances and unfair labor practice complaints are piling up against Mayor William Lantigua's administration after laid-off union employees were not rehired and temporary workers with political ties to Lantigua were put on the payroll.
The temporary workers landed jobs in the public works department, inspectional services and the tax collector's office, according to numerous City Hall and union sources.
The workers are paid out of self-supporting enterprise funds, posing no additional burden to the municipal budget, or they are filling the positions of workers who took "voluntary layoffs" in July 2010, said Leonard Degnan, Lantigua's former chief of staff.
But a union business manager said he has told the city "to cease and desist" the prohibited hiring of "political cronies."
"Their answer to us is we don't really care," said Edmund "Ike" Gabriel, of SEIU Local 3 Firemen and Oilers, which represents public works and clerical workers. He said the city is taking an enormous financial risk by ignoring the rights and contracts of unionized workers. When a layoff occurs, senior unionized workers are "to be the first to be called back," he said.
"In the end, the city will be obligated to pay lost wages to these people ... That's something the city can ill afford," Gabriel said.
Last July, nearly 80 city employees, including 37 municipal workers in a number of departments, were laid off to balance the city's $72 million budget.
Those recently hired include longtime Lantigua supporters Santiago Matias, who works in the city's Inspectional Services Department, and Nazario Esquea, who works in the Tax Collector's office.
And Cesar Brea and Fernando "Chi Chi" Rivera, who were laid off from the water and sewer divisions last July, both are back working for the city as temporary workers at Veterans' Memorial Stadium, bypassing other unionized workers with more seniority, the sources said.
Michael Fielding, a former city councilor who worked on Lantigua's campaign, and Justo Garcia, Lantigua's campaign photographer, now have permanent jobs working in city parking garages, according to the sources.
Councilor Grisel Silva, a vocal Lantigua critic, said she suspects the hiring, both temporary and permanent, of Lantigua's allies may be even more widespread. She wants to put an end to the practice as the council reviews the fiscal year 2012 budget in meetings this month. The new budget year starts July 1.
"It's not fair. The city is paying unemployment benefits to people we laid off and we are also paying temporary workers. We are losing money ... We had people to do these jobs and we couldn't afford it," said Silva, who represents District B and serves as budget committee vice chairman.
City Councilor Daniel Rivera, budget committee chairman, said temporary workers may actually save the city money in some instances, depending on the work that needs to be done and how long it's gone to take. But he was unaware of how many temporary workers the Lantigua administration has hired. He said councilors will take a hard look at the issue during the budget reviews this month.
He will also ask Frank Bonet, personnel director, for a complete list of temporary workers hired in the past year, Rivera said. Bonet could not be reached for comment for this story.
"If that's going on, I wouldn't support it," said Rivera, when told Lantigua had hired numerous political supporters to work in a variety of city departments.
Union members have grievances with the city attorney's office and formal complaints with the state's Labor Relations Board. Three laid off employees have also filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in Boston, Gabriel, the SEIU representative, said.
"Jobs are apparently available to certain, politically connected people. It smells of patronage ... and it violates collective bargaining agreements," he said.
Gabriel said he requested a complete list of the temporary workers from City Hall but was ignored by officials.
"So now, we will have to file another charge. They are obligated to provide that information to us," he said.
Neither Lantigua nor Patrick Blanchette, a top aide, could be reached for comment for this story. Degnan, Lantigua's former chief of staff, quit last Monday, citing personal reasons.
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