On the heels of a village board decision to hire a private firm to perform street crack sealing work this fall, Brookfield Public Works employees have filed a union grievance against the village.

Public Works Director William Brandt confirmed last Friday that he received a formal grievance on Sept. 16 signed by 14 public works employees, who are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73. The complaint asks the village to reverse its decision to hire SKC Construction Co. for crack sealing work.

The contract calls for SKC to be paid $34,601 to address 106,900 lineal feet of street cracks throughout the village. Crack sealing is performed to extend the life of asphalt roads, but has not been done in Brookfield during the past two years.

Brandt said that he will write the department’s union steward, Kevin McCarthy, that the village intends on pushing forward with its plans to hire SKC. It’s expected that the union will respond with a grievance to Village Manager Riccardo Ginex. If the matter is not resolved at that step, it could go before an independent arbitrator.

The basis for the union’s grievance, according to a union official who requested anonymity, is that the public works contract states that work historically done by union employees will continue to be performed by union employees.

In past years, Brookfield Public Works crews have performed crack sealing. From 2000 to 2003, for example, village crews spent a total of 2,440 hours doing crack sealing work.

The union is particularly uneasy about the hiring of a subcontractor to do the work in light of recent layoffs in public works. At the beginning of September, four full-time employees were laid off after the village board approved its 2005-06 budget.

“In light of the fact the village laid off four of them, we’re concerned about the subcontracted work,” the union official said. “This might lead to others losing their jobs.”

But while union members have complained that the village should not farm out work historically performed in house, village officials say the union contract allows it.

“The contract is pretty clear about the village having the right to call out a contractor if they feel the scope exceeds the ability of the bargaining members,” Ginex said.

The language of the contract is open to interpretation. While it does state that “all work … historically performed by [union] employees will continue to be performed by [union] employees” it also says that the “village reserves the right to call out [non-union] employees or to contract with outside contractors for routine work when, in the village’s opinion, such work exceeds the ability or scope of the [union] members.”

The contract further states that non-department employees can be used for “replacement and repair of streets” among other things.

Prior to awarding the crack sealing contract, village officials argued that public works crews were unable to match both the speed and cost savings that a private contractor could provide. From 2000 to 2003, village crews filled 33,600 lineal feet of street cracks, versus the 106,900 called for the current contract with SKC. Further, the village argued, it spent over $73,000 in salaries and benefits for public works employees to perform street crack sealing work from 2000-03 versus the $34,601 it will cost to do three times the work this fall.

The village does subcontract out other work traditionally performed by public works crews, such as tree trimming. However, according to the union official, while there may be some instances where work has been historically subcontracted out, that’s never been the case for crack sealing.

“We feel that should be retained,” he said.