Housing Authority docks worker a week's salary He criticized heat leave suspension on TV BALTIMORE CITY

September 01, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

A painter for Baltimore's Housing Authority says his right to free speech evaporated in the summer heat last week after he criticized the agency's decision to suspend heat leave for maintenance workers.

Kevin Humes was suspended without pay after he appeared on television news shows on Thursday, shortly after Daniel P. Henson III, the authority's executive director, ordered workers to stay on the job as the temperature soared above 90 degrees.

Mr. Humes made pointed statements about the loss of heat leave in front of the cameras. Afterward, Ken McGill, a Housing Authority official, cited him for insubordination and ordered him to leave his job at Lafayette Courts, an East Baltimore housing project.

Mr. Henson referred to a backlog of 30,000 repair orders when he suspended a provision in the workers' contract that gives them heat leave -- time off the job with pay when the temperature reaches 90 degrees or higher with 55 percent humidity by noon.

Mr. Humes' suspension, reported on television and in The Sun last week, prompted at least 20 angry phone calls to the Housing Authority offices last week, an official said.

The controversy heated up further yesterday when Mr. Humes was told by authority personnel officials that he could return to work tomorrow -- without receiving his $250

paycheck for the past week.

The action was met with a grievance against the Housing Authority filed by Local 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the maintenance workers.

The union also filed a grievance last week when Mr. Henson canceled heat leave, which has been included in the workers' contract for 30 years.

"I was suspended because I spoke to Channels 11, 2, 13 and 45 -- they asked me how I felt about the heat leave and I told them it was a necessity," Mr. Humes said. "The hallways [in public housing] reek of urine, and it's enough to knock you down. And add the heat to it, and you pass out. It's a real serious health problem."

Mr. Humes, 25, said he was warned by Mr. McGill not to render his opinion about losing heat leave, but he disregarded the order. "I was on my lunch hour and on public property," he explained.

"He told me in no uncertain terms, 'Talk to the media and you'll be fired,' " Mr. Humes said. "Well, they do not have a gag order [on employees], and there is no reason to have acted the way they did. They are trying to keep us quiet because they are trying to hide just how bad things are out there."

Zack Germroth, authority spokesman, said yesterday that Housing Authority employees have been told to refer all media questions to his office.

"It gives a coordinated voice for the agency, otherwise you have chaos," Mr. Germroth said. "He [Mr. Humes] apparently went against a direct order."

Daryl Pertee, president of Local 67, charged that the authority's treatment of Mr. Humes is proof of the deteriorating relationship between the Housing Authority and its 430 maintenance workers. The workers are currently at an impasse in salary negotiations with the authority.

"The authority is trying to take attention away from its poor management," Mr. Pertee said. "The workers are very angry; they feel the commissioner doesn't think of them as human beings, but as machines. Whenever he wants to shine, he can take a bunch of them on a cleanup. But when it comes to their health and safety, he is not concerned."

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