Water Dept. Workers Punished for Not Crossing Picket Line?

A standoff is underway at an Old City construction site where a group of water department employees today refused to cross a picket line by the carpenter’s union.

After the group of five city workers would not enter the site near 2nd and Market streets this morning to connect a water line, the city told them they would be taken off the clock for the rest of the day, said Pete Matthews, president of AFSCME District Council 33, which represents the city’s blue collar workers.

“Every union knows you honor another union’s picket line,” said Matthews, who said the city could have sent the workers to another site or had them do the work after 3 p.m., when the picket would be over.

We called the water department for comment, but their public relations staff said they didn’t know anything about it and that they couldn’t talk to us without clearance from the mayor’s press office. We’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE, 5:10 pm:  Water Department spokeswoman Laura Copeland confirms that the employees, who had been sent to the construction site to hook up a fire suppression system, were warned that they would be sent home if they refused to complete the work.  Copeland added that the union contract lays out a process for such situations:  The workers must perform the task and then file a grievance about being made to cross a picket line.

“This contractor paid for the fire connection," Copeland said. "Our employees can’t dictate what jobs they will or will not perform.”