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Union opposed supervisor’s plowing

Whiteside, Lee counties starting winter preparation

Traffic along Route 30 outside of Morrison slowly moves through the 
falling snow during a snowstorm that struck the Sauk Valley on March 5.
Traffic along Route 30 outside of Morrison slowly moves through the falling snow during a snowstorm that struck the Sauk Valley on March 5.

MORRISON – On March 5, a snowstorm hit the Sauk Valley. At the time, the Whiteside County Highway Department was short three snowplow drivers – two were on medical leave, another on vacation. 

The possibility of hiring temporary employees had been discussed, but officials had yet to make a decision.

The county deemed the storm an emergency, so Kevin Janssen, assistant superintendent of highways, joined the crew.

That resulted in a complaint from the Teamsters, which represents highway employees. A worker had expressed concern that a foreman was performing maintenance duties, contending it was a violation of the union’s contract. 

The controversy was documented in the minutes of a March 7 closed session of the County Board’s Public Works Committee, which the panel voted to release last week.

According to the minutes, County Engineer Russ Renner reported he had informed the Teamsters that Janssen may help out because of the shortage. 

The committee backed the department’s handling of the situation, given the shortage and hazardous road conditions. 

The union contract allows supervisors to help out during emergencies. The conflict was over whether the situation involved an emergency, Renner said in an interview Monday.

“We were really shorthanded, and we had a pretty heavy storm,” Renner explained. “Kevin is formerly a maintenance guy. He is experienced.”

This coming winter, the county crew will likely be down two employees for medical reasons. Another two are on leave, but are expected to return by the time snow falls, Renner said.

With the two gone, 10 snowplow drivers remain, Renner said. The county may offset the difference with temporary employees, which can be done under the union contract, he said. 

Frank Barger, a Teamsters representative, said it’s not uncommon for supervisors to do union members’ work. In this case, he said, the matter was quickly resolved.

“Usually, a phone call will take care of it,” he said. “In an emergency situation, we have no problem with nonbargaining unit employees doing the work of bargaining unit employees.”

In Lee County, the Highway Department has nine employees available to work snowplows, none of whom are on medical leave, County Engineer Dave Anderson said. 

Lee County’s union contract is similar to Whiteside County’s. Generally, Anderson said, Lee County doesn’t have supervisors doing the work of union members. 

Renner received good reviews

MORRISON – Earlier this year, Whiteside County Engineer Russ Renner received good reviews.

Last week, the County Board's Public Works Committee released some of its closed-session minutes.

At its Jan. 22 closed meeting, the committee's consensus was that Renner had done well in his first year as county engineer. He had scored above average in all categories.

As a result of his good evaluation, the committee recommended to the state that it raise Renner's pay to the state's full suggested salary of $109,000. When he was hired the previous February, the county had decided to delay giving him the full salary until after his annual performance review.

In the closed session, Renner said he was very pleased with his first year and that he was looking forward to upgrades of equipment and procedure.

In December 2011, Renner's predecessor, Steve Haring, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of theft. That was for having county employees do personal jobs on the county clock, which happened during Haring's 5 years as county engineer.

Haring resigned as a result of the scandal.

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