Union push back over Riverhead highway department’s GPS plans

A move to install global positioning systems in Riverhead Town’s highway department vehicles probably won’t happen until sometime next year, according to Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson.

For one, the GPS proposal will likely have to be put out to bid, officials said. But Matt Hattorff, head of the town’s employee union, opposes the measure, calling it “a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

“This is all about safety and accountability,” Mr. Woodson said in an interview, adding that the technology also can help the town save on fuel costs. “If there’s an emergency in a snowstorm where fire and ambulance are called, you can use this to find out which truck is closest.”

Mr. Hattorff, president of the local unit of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents most non-police employees in the town, sees it differently.

“The department is not that big where Mr. Woodson can’t keep track of his people with the number of foremen that he has,” he said. “It looks like he wants a little over $100,000 in three years, when he could promote three guys to foreman to the tune of maybe $20,000 over three years and save the taxpayers $80,000.”

Mr. Hattorff based his estimates on a purchase request filed by Mr. Woodson.

But Mr. Woodson says the figures Mr. Hattorff cites are not correct and that he has contacted about five different companies that do GPS monitoring.

“It’s nowhere near $100,000 over three years,” Mr. Woodson said.

He’s estimating that the cost will be closer to $60,000 over three years, but he said some of the vendors he’s contacted have annual contracts.

“Matt doesn’t run the highway department, I run the highway department,” Mr. Woodson said. “All of the towns to the west of us have this already. I’m just modernizing our department the best I can and bringing us up to par. As far as I see it, these are town vehicles and if you’re doing your job, you have nothing to worry about.”

Supervisor Sean Walter said he supports installing GPS in the highway vehicles, although he said the issue is currently caught up in the town’s “procurement policy” and they are trying to determine if the town needs to seek competitive bids on the GPS systems.

If it costs under $20,000 and is a one-year contract, that won’t be necessary, he said, but over that it likely will.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Mr. Walter said of putting GPS in the highway vehicles. “It gives [Mr. Woodson] flexibility in an emergency or a snowstorm to know where his vehicles are, and it’s also safer for the drivers. Suppose you’re out there in a blizzard and a tree comes down and you get stuck, and the radios and cell phones don’t work. Right now, the highway department is not going to know what is going on unless someone comes across you. But if you look on this and you see a truck stuck in the middle of the road, you’ll know something is wrong.”

Mr. Walter said he doesn’t think highway employees should be worried.

“We’ve got a good group of highway employees. I don’t think it’s going to impact anybody,” he said.

Mr. Hattorff said he plans to discuss the issue with regional CSEA representatives and with some attorneys before deciding what action to take.

A New York State Public Relations Board has ruled in past cases elsewhere that a municipality has the right to use GPS to monitor employees and that it is not subject to collective bargaining.

When Brookhaven Town began installing GPS in town vehicles a few years ago, it also met with opposition from employee unions.

“They opposed it in every town,” Mr. Woodson said.

Mr. Hattorff claims that “Brookhaven Town hasn’t saved a nickel on this.”

Brookhaven Town officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

“With the way the economy is, there’s a lot of people looking for work and our employees know that and aren’t going to risk their jobs,” Mr. Hattorff said. “They appreciate their jobs and that’s why they do a good job.”

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