City of Hamilton fires workers who allegedly ran errands instead of fixing potholes

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

We had a term for it when I worked summer construction jobs while going to university; dogging it, though that's the printable version of what it actually was, involving sexual congress with said dog.

It meant sneaking an extra five minutes on your lunch break or taking your time when bringing the truck back from a job site. It earned you a sharp rebuke from the foreman: "Hey, quit [doing something unspeakable to] the dog and go help unload that rebar!"

But some Hamilton, Ont., municipal workers raised dogging it to a fine art until an elaborate spy operation uncovered it and got them fired.

According to the National Post, 29 unionized employees involved in road patching work were dismissed and two more suspended without pay after private investigators exposed not just major-league slacking but possibly illegal use of city asphalt.

The Post reported city crews would leave Hamilton's public works yard with a load of fresh hot asphalt and a list of potholes to be patched.

[Related: Toronto District School Board employees drink, smooch on the job ]

At the end of the day, the asphalt was gone and workers confirmed the holes had been filled. But unbeknownst to them, 16 randomly-selected crews were under surveillance by investigators using video cameras and GPS tracking devices on the work trucks.

The results of the one-day investigation last October were revealed Monday. The probe revealed some workers spent just minutes of their day actually doing their jobs, the Post said.

The workers allegedly spent the day in coffee shops, bars, running personal errands or just chillin' back at home.

“They weren’t patching roads, they would go and do personal things,” said Lloyd Ferguson, chairman of the public works committee, adding this is the largest purge of municipal employees in Hamilton's history.

“To do less than an hour’s work for a full-day’s pay is unconscionable. That’s why we had to deal with it so swiftly and so severely.”

The city is still looking into what happened to the truckloads of asphalt. A municipal worker told the Post some was dumped into sewers and ravines and some sold to private paving companies for driveway patching.

A Hamilton resident told the paper a paving firm's door-to-door salesman bragged last summer he could patch the home's driveway with genuine fresh asphalt, "the same stuff used by the city."

City manager Chris Murrey said internal monitoring of productivity turned up a problem, which deepened when the city reviewed truck GPS records and discovered some vehicles had not gone to the assigned areas, even though crews signed off on the work at the end of the day. So the city called in outside investigators.

“What our evidence reveals is that not only was that work not done, but they weren’t even working,” said Murray. “What they said happened and what in fact happened were two different things.”

Two workers who admitted to wrongdoing were handed 30-day suspensions without pay. The others were fired for neglect of duty, theft of time and breach of trust, the Post reported.

Ferguson worries the problem is more widespread. Almost all the randomly selected crews that were followed were ripping off the city.

“It does beg the question and, believe me, members of council will be asking these questions of how rampant it is,” said Ferguson, who sits on council.

The fired workers' union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 5167, is expected to grieve the dismissals. The union wouldn't comment to the Post on Monday.

Ferguson told the Hamilton Spectator on that the fired workers would not be replaced.

“If they are working an hour per day, we don’t need 31 of them,” he said Tuesday.

[ More Brew: Chicago mayor urges TD Bank to stop funding gunmakers ]

“We’ve got some budget pressures. We’ll be looking at whether there is some cost savings that can be passed on to the taxpayer in that area.”

The investigation cost $18,000 and Ferguson told the Spectator it's not over. Internal auditors now are reviewing paperwork from the daily assignments and looking into whether employees were selling city asphalt.