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Unionized City of Lawrence workers say they’re facing retaliation for filing grievances, hostile work environment

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Post updated at 1:22 p.m. Wednesday, June 21:

Public sector workers held a demonstration Tuesday in front of City Hall just before the Lawrence City Commission meeting, hoping to draw attention to what they say are long ignored complaints. 

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Represented by Teamsters Local 696, the workers demanded that the City of Lawrence stop retaliating against workers who initiate grievance procedures, and “stop ignoring filed grievances.” 

“There have been some problems with overtime rules, and there’s also been widespread harassment and bullying in the sanitation department, retaliation for workers filing grievances, and grievances not being heard at all,” said Matt Hall, secretary treasurer for Teamsters.

“There’s been multiple documented occurrences, (but) grievances haven’t been heard. And so we’re coming to this level to call it to attention.” 

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times Matt Hall (right), secretary treasurer for Teamsters Local 696, leads city union workers in a demonstration.

The public sector workers entered a contract with the City of Lawrence in 2021. That contract outlined grievance procedures, but union members said many of those agreements have not been honored. 

Jody Norcross, a city sanitation worker representing the union, described his work environment as hostile.

“We’re losing employees,” Norcross said. “We have more employees talking about leaving. Nobody feels respected.”

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times Jody Norcross, front, demonstrates with other union workers, June 20, 2023.

Among concerns, Norcross said he has observed leadership retaliating against fellow workers for initiating the grievance procedure, and denying stewardship representation during meetings. 

“We’ve had (city) retaliation of employees and (there have been) many times they’ve denied representation,” Norcross said. “We have a grievance procedure. … They let it go to a certain stage, then they deny it.” 

Norcross said he hopes the demonstration will open city leaders’ eyes, so they can “work as a team to make it a better workplace so … things will run a lot smoother and safer.” 

An attorney representing the union told the City Commission that they had filed a petition in Douglas County District Court Tuesday, but the case was not yet publicly available via online court records.

“We respect workers’ right to demonstrate and speak their minds and will continue to work with the Teamsters to understand their concerns and build relationships,” Laura McCabe, a spokesperson for the city, said via email Wednesday. “We will know more once we receive a copy of the petition. We know our very best is achieved by a diverse, engaged, and collaborative organizational culture and want employees to feel trusted, supported and cared for as we all work together to build community.”

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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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