(02/19/2008)
Division of Highways workers are worried about their future, despite frequent declarations by state officials that downsizing in favor of continued outsourcing and contracting is not in the offing.

The Capitol's rotunda was ablaze with bright orange yesterday as dozens of these workers, wearing their safety vests, joined other state employees for a Presidents Day rally.

The Division of Highways workers are concerned that auctioning of vehicles, heavy equipment and other materials by management is a red flag for what is to come.

DOH officials have said the auctions are only to help the state get rid of unused or little used equipment.

DOH workers have declared the statement is "quite a spin."

The rally also highlighted concerns over job vacancies at the Department of Environmental Protection.

A union for state workers alleges DEP has failed to collect hefty fines from polluters, and is calling for a legislative audit.

Workers declared that DEP has missed out on millions, and potentially billions, of dollars in state revenue by not collecting fines from polluters.

"If we are missing out on revenue for our state, then we are missing a chance to provide competitive wages to our states workers," said Gordon Simmons of the UE Local 170.

"We cannot afford to allow these lost millions to go unnoticed. How many raises? How many jobs could be provided if the DEP was collecting fines from law-breakers?," he declared.

According to a DEP report, the state agency has maintained an average of over 100 job vacancies for 10 years.

Recent news reports have revealed the DEP to be four to five years behind on reviewing water pollution reports.

"I am here because I want to help the DEP to do their job," said Donna Branham, a member of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, from Mingo County.

"The governor's budget has tied the hands of well-intentioned people, and we are here to ask the legislature to help us untie their hands," she said.

"It isn't fair to the workers or to the citizens of this state for our agencies to continue to be slighted while polluters and other law-breakers run free."

"It is time we stop treating the people who are committed to this state as second class citizens. We have to stop paying them second-class wages," Branham concluded.

A DEP oversight hearing is set for 10 a.m. February 20 in the Energy Industry and Mining Committee, Room 208 West in the State Capitol building. Concerned citizens will hold a press conference at 9:30 that morning on the steps just outside the Senate Chamber.


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