By Alex Distefano
If a grand jury is to be believed, Riverside County’s Waste Management and HR departments are full of, ahem, colorful talk
This is no mere trash talk.
A recent grand jury report suggests that racist talk and hostile working conditions were pretty rampant, spanning the decades, at Riverside County’s Human Resources and Waste Management.
The report is full of sworn testimony and signed affidavits from former and current employees who attest to horrendous conditions and the use of racial slurs that make the Inland Empire look like the South during the 1960s instead of the 21st century.
The report describes a systematic lack of communication between employees and supervisors of Waste Management Department, which employs roughly 200 people and oversees the daily operations at six landfills. Since 2006, 21 different harassment and/or discrimination complaints were filed against the department. Of those, 13—or 61 percent—ended up as investigations for misconduct. Some of these are still pending.
The report also says that many employees were not given mandatory annual reviews, and those who were given reviews received them in an untimely manner.
More shocking to some, allegations of the use of racist language over the years by supervisors were also reported. Specifically, current and former employees, who were African American, swore under oath that racist slurs and derogatory remarks were par for the course at their workplace.
One incident goes back to 1989, when one equipment operator at the Badlands Landfill in Moreno Valley filed a complaint against his supervisor for making racial remarks. Later, that supervisor’s son was hired at the landfill, and documents show that he followed the African American employee to a gas station after work on one occasion and yelled a racial slur at him. The problem became so persistent that a restraining order was filed against the supervisor’s son-in-law, records show, followed by a lawsuit.
Not surprisingly, the grand jury report also details the implementation of the County’s “Speak Out” program, designed to allow workers to anonymously report any occurrences of harassments, fraud, waste, intimidation or other forms of abuse. The findings also recommends that—surprise, surprise—a zero tolerance policy against threats, retaliation, intimidation, bullying or other forms of harassment be implemented, with an updated mandatory schedule of harassment training for all supervisors and manager.
The report also chronicles working conditions—based on an eight-day investigation from September 2004—of the Lamb Canyon Landfill in Beaumont, There, one supervisor in particular was known among employees to consistently make racially insensitive comments towards African American employees. In one incident, an employee attempted to file a complaint against another employee for making racial slurs but the on-site supervisor refused to sign the necessary paperwork needed to take disciplinary action.
One former employee, also African American, testified under oath about one supervisor’s reaction to his request for a lunch break. The worker alleged that the supervisor said, “You get your black ass out there and eat in that trailer.” “The employee said that the trailer was full of cats, rats, trash and feces, and that he was on more than one instance called a [N-word] during his eight years of working with the county, up until 2011,” according to the report.
Things aren’t much better for the Human Resources (HR) Department and its 337 employees, according to the grand jury report. The report focused on the Temporary Assignment Program and workplace bullying. After the investigation was complete, the report states, the results concluded that workplace bullying by supervisors and managers at HR Department had become “pervasive.” The conditions led to low workplace morale, a constant fear of retaliation, intimidation among employees and even seven formal complaints.
Still not enough for ya? Abuse, fraud and misconduct were still the name of the game from 2007 to 2011. According to the grand jury, many senior managers and recruiters wasted time while on the clock and were “out of control” when it came to taking long lunches, violating attendance policies, using personal time while on the clock, making errors and more.
Many employees also testified under oath that whenever workers admitted to making minor mistakes, they were reprimanded as if they had committed the error intentionally. Others were written up for minor infractions, such as not responding to an email in a timely fashion.
Allegedly, supervisors and managers who could have done something about the problems simply didn’t. Two recruitment workers testified that they had to take extended leaves due to the high volume of stress caused by the hostile working environment.
So what does the county’s spokesman say about all this?
“This is a civil grand jury that makes findings and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors,” county spokesman Ray Smith tells the Weekly. “This is not a criminal matter and I can’t comment on any individuals.”
But Hans Kernkamp, general manager and chief engineer for Waste Management, did say that the county is going to be making a formal announcement.
“All we know at this point in time is that the county is set to respond to the Board on July 31,” he told the Weekly. “I am sure there will be more comments then, but there’s no additional information at this time.” Thanks, Hans, big help.