A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown officials will pay out more than $13,000 in past-due overtime pay and offer training to settle labor disputes involving more than 25 town employees.

The Smithtown Town Board approved settlements at the May 8 town board meeting for two labor grievances with unionized town park employees related to overtime pay and hiring a third-party contractor installing its new playgrounds.

Currently, Gibbs Pond Park in Nesconset, along with Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James are receiving long-awaited renovations including the installation of new playground equipment. When the town bought the equipment in September 2017, it also hired the installation services of Minnesota-based Landscape Structures Inc. The members of Civil Service Employees Association local union Chapter 852 brought the labor grievance to the town board claiming that said town employees were not notified of the hiring of the third-party company and having an outside company install the playground equipment was a violation of the workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Despite repeated attempts, a representative from the union chapter could not be contacted by press time.

 [I]f somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.
– Ed Wehrheim

Some of the playground work included groundwork and removal of old playground equipment. The town paid Landscape Structures $144,000 for the installation of the Gibbs Pond equipment, $87,050 for Gaynor Park and $94,000 for Veterans Memorial Park for a total of more than $325,000.

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that the notification of hiring the third-party installer was run through the town’s Department of Parks, Buildings & Grounds.

“For the type of playground that was purchased, it requires a certified installer from the company,” he said.

Town officials said that the playground equipment required workers who had Certified Playground Safety Inspector licenses, which are the National Recreation and Park Association produced certifications giving lessons on playground safety issues such as hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management methods, according to NRPA’s website.

“We put that out to bid to furnish and install that equipment,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “The reason we did that is federal standards have changed in what we are required to do for liability purposes in playgrounds. In this case, when [the third party] installs, the equipment is warranteed. So, if somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.”

Under the settlement, Smithtown officials agreed with the union that, starting in 2019, the town will provide an opportunity for any town employee who wishes to get licensed to take the necessary classes and become certified. Wehrheim said the town will cover for any associated expenses.

Officials also agreed that in the future the town discuss whether any new playground equipment or playground maintenance will be done by town employees or a third-party directly with the chapter president or other chapter officers.

The town also reached an agreement with parks employees on overtime equalization.

In 2017, unionized workers brought to the attention of the town board, problems with the equalization of overtime pay of parks department employees in 2016. Under current agreement, member employees are allowed an overtime equalization equal to 80 percent of the employee who received the highest overtime pay. Jakubowski said that a mistake in the parks department meant several employees were not given those funds.

The town will pay out the sum total of $13,775 divided among 25 employees who did not receive their proper overtime wages.

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