Union files grievance over cutting of landmark tree in Oak Harbor

Workers examine the remains of the 330-year-old Garry oak that was removed in front of the Oak Harbor Post Office March 23.  - file photo
Workers examine the remains of the 330-year-old Garry oak that was removed in front of the Oak Harbor Post Office March 23.
— image credit: file photo

The secrecy behind the City of Oak Harbor’s decision to cut down the landmark Garry oak tree at the post office resulted in a grievance.

The grievance was filed by a union representing Oak Harbor Public Works employees.

Teamsters’ Local No. 231 filed a grievance with Public Works Director Cathy Rosen on April 2. Rosen responded last week with a denial of the grievance, but union officials said they are planning to appeal.

“The represented employees should have been doing that work,” said Rich Ewing, secretary-treasurer for Local No. 231.

The grievance letter states that, under the collective bargaining agreement, union employees should have been scheduled to perform the work since it involved duties “regularly performed by Teamster Bargaining Unit Members.”

Instead, city officials kept the plans to chop down the tree under wraps from union members and many other city employees.

Supervisors and “lead employees” in Public Works were scheduled to assist in the tree removal on March 23.

The union asked that the city stop scheduling non-union members to perform work assigned to the union; in addition, the union demands that any affected employees “be made whole for all lost wages and benefits.”

Mayor Scott Dudley said previously that he decided not to notify the community ahead of time about plans to cut down the tree in order to lower the city’s potential exposure to litigation.

City Administrator Larry Cort said he couldn’t comment on why the plans were kept secret from union members and other city employees.

“Those who needed to know knew,” Cort said.

In her letter denying the grievance, Rosen wrote that city leaders’ goal was to keep the number of city staff at a minimum “in the interest of safety and effective site management.”

“Given the business conditions specific to this job,” she wrote, “the employees that were scheduled to work on this project possess unique skills that have been proven over time, skills that bargaining unit members do not generally possess.”

Taking down the tree was “a highly complex operation” and something that the city hasn’t undertaken in the past 20-plus years, Rosen said in her response.

Two contractors were involved in the project, as were employees from the Oak Harbor Police Department, city administration and Public Works.

The contractors provided the equipment, which included a 70-foot bucket truck, a 65-foot bucket truck, a chipper, excavator, flatbed truck, several pickup trucks, trailers and, most importantly, a 60-ton crane.

In fact, the crane wasn’t able to handle the heft of the giant trunk, resulting in it being cut in half.

“The work that occurred during the tree removal on March 23, 2014, could not, even under the most generous interpretation, be considered ‘routine,’” Rosen wrote.

Ewing said the union is in the process of appealing.

That appeal goes to Cort, as city administrator.

If denied by Cort, the matter then could be appealed to a personnel board.


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