Union troubled by Eagle Scout project in Allentown
After layoffs, SEIU president complains about city's use of volunteers, contractors
November 15, 2009 - In pursuit of an Eagle Scout badge, Kevin Anderson, 17, has toiled for more than 200 hours hours over several weeks to clear a walking path in an east Allentown park.
Little did the do-gooder know that his altruistic act would put him in the cross hairs of the city's largest municipal union.
Nick Balzano, president of the local Service Employees International Union, told Allentown City Council Tuesday that the union is considering filing a grievance against the city for allowing Anderson to clear a 1,000-foot walking and biking path at Kimmets Lock Park.
"We'll be looking into the Cub Scout or Boy Scout who did the trails," Balzano told the council.
Balzano said Saturday he isn't targeting Boy Scouts. But given the city's decision in July to lay off 39 SEIU members, Balzano said "there's to be no volunteers." No one except union members may pick up a hoe or shovel, plant a flower or clear a walking path.
"We would hope that the well-intentioned efforts of an Eagle Scout candidate would not be challenged by the union," said Mayor Ed Pawlowski in an e-mail Friday. "This young man is performing a great service to the community. His efforts should be recognized as such."
Balzano said Saturday the union is still looking into the matter and might cut the city a break.
"We are probably going to let this one go," Balzano said .
The possible entanglement of a local Boy Scout in a union dispute underscores the frustration and anger SEIU members feel after being the lone city union to suffer layoffs in the ongoing financial crisis. It may also serve as a preview of future labor battles as the city tries to outsource some necessary jobs as a result of the layoffs.
Anderson, a junior and varsity soccer player at Southern Lehigh High School, is a member of Boy Scout Troop 301 of Center Valley.
He got the idea for the trail while taking hikes along the partially complete, 165-mile Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. He noticed there were a few missing connections to the trail in Kimmets Lock Park, which is on the Lehigh River near Dauphin Street. He already has logged 250 hours trying to carve out a walking and biking trail along the river.
"I decided to do my part in completing this part of the trail. In that way, others could enjoy walking along the river, without having to walk on the busy road," Anderson said in an e-mail Friday.
During last week's budget hearings, where City Council reviewed the Public Works and Park and Recreation departments' funding requests, it was made clear that the layoffs and early retirements -- all of which have led to the lowest city staffing levels in two decades -- are bound to create union disputes in the weeks and months ahead.
For example, the city currently does not have an electrician available because of the layoffs and an employee on an extended sick leave. As a result, the city has been forced to hire an outside union electrician to oversee the installation for the popular Lights on the Parkway holiday display.
"In the spirit of the holiday, we decided to let that go," Balzano said.
Greg Weitzel, head of the Parks and Recreation Department, which lost 17 full-time employees as a result of the layoffs and retirements, said the low staffing levels will require more outsourcing of labor and a greater reliance on volunteers.
"There are some things that we can do in-house and other things we will have to bid out," Weitzel said Tuesday. "We originally had plans to do more with our labor force, but now we have to bid out that work."
I especially liked the comment, "No one except union members may pick up a hoe or shovel, plant a flower or clear a walking path."
Look, I think unions really served a purpose in the early 20th century. Truth is, while the idea of unionizing is noble and altruistic, today's unions have mostly become cesspools of corruption and kickbacks. I realize the union is "probably" going to let this go. But the fact that it is even an issue should send shivers up the spine of any American who remembers what it was like in the old days when volunteerism was considered to part of the nation's greatness.
SEIU has shown, time and again, that they are out of touch and out of line. That Obama has been attached to them (and ACORN) tells you all you need to know about our President.