By Amaris Castillo

The state Department of Labor Relations has dismissed allegations that the town violated the law by denying a Department of Public Works employee the right to union representation when fired and discharging him in retaliation for the union raising an overtime issue with DPW Director Ed Patenaude.

According to the DLR decision, provided by Town Manager Jim Duggan to The Valley Dispatch, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 93, Local 1404, accused the town of discharging George Metros in retaliation for the union raising an overtime issue with Patenaude. It also argued that the town violated Metros' Weingarten rights when it denied a request for union representation at a meeting held Dec. 14, 2017.

The town argued that Metros never requested union representation during the meeting, which included Metros, Duggan, Patenaude and Director of Human Resources Christine Lindberg,

Metros, a Dracut resident who worked as a truck driver for the DPW for 13 years and was president of the DPW workers' union, was fired last year for taking copper pipes on Sept. 6, 2017, from a Phineas Street home.

Metros told police he had noticed the barrel of copper at the end of a driveway and had taken it because he believed it was being thrown out. He also said he knocked on the house's door and no one answered.

The owner of the pipes agreed not to press charges in exchange for $150 reimbursement.

Three months later, on Dec.


Advertisement

11, 2017, Patenaude ordered a starting time of 5 a.m., for DPW workers on Dec. 12 due to an imminent storm, according to DLR documents.

When Patenaude arrived to work the following day, at the normal start time of 7:30, the office manager and a foreman informed him that the union wanted to talk to him about the amount of overtime pay members would receive for the early call-in.

According to the documents, at the urging of Metros, two others entered Patenaude's office and informed him that employees believed that under the parties' collective-bargaining agreement, they were entitled to four hours of overtime pay for the call-in rather than the two hours they were set to receive. Patenaude agreed and directed the office manager to pay them for four hours. The issue was resolved within about 10 minutes.

Duggan said he didn't know of this issue until later.

On Dec. 14, Duggan directed Patenaude to bring Metros to Town Hall. According to Patenaude, Metros asked him if he needed union representation, and Patenaude told Metros it was "up to him." According to the documents, Duggan did not explain to Patenaude his reason for wanting to see Metros, and Patenaude was not involved in Duggan's decision to discharge Metros.

At the meeting, Duggan brought up the copper incident. That is where narratives split.

According to Metros, at the meeting he said he would like to enact his Weingarten rights and was told he didn't need to do so. Duggan said Metros never asked for union representation.

It was at that meeting that Duggan handed Metros a discharge letter.

"I was fully confident that the DLR was going to come to that conclusion because the claim that Mr. Metros was terminated directly related to union business was baseless and the controversial issue that he gave as the reason why was something that was handled quickly," Duggan said. "It was just a matter of a miscommunication, and the DPW director resolved the issue immediately within minutes. It didn't even get to my desk. I never knew that issue had occurred, that there was a difference in opinion, because I empower my department heads to resolve conflicts first. If they are not able to resolve it, then I get involved."

Metros referred questions to his lawyer. In an email Thursday, Jim Durkin, director of legislation, political action and communications for AFSCME Council 93, released the following statement on Metros' behalf:

"The recent ruling by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations pertained to the union's contention that Mr. Metros was targeted for discipline because of his status as union president and that he was entitled to have union representation present at the meeting that resulted in his termination by the town manager. The department of labor relations ruled against the union in both matters. However, the matter of Mr. Metros' termination is still pending in binding arbitration."

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo. Her email address is acastillo@lowellsun.com.