City workers robbed on the job. Was Durham’s response lacking?

DURHAM

The union representing Durham city workers says the city has inadequately responded to a robbery Monday night when three city employees were held at gunpoint and robbed while working.

In a news release, the Durham City Workers Union chapter of UE local 150 called upon the city to better protect workers from robberies and violent attacks.

“The response since the incident has been completely inadequate, leaving many workers with raw emotions from a traumatic event,” said union president Nathanette Mayo. “They’re still pretty stressed out.”

Durham spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said the city is working to resolve the concerns.

“The safety of city employees is always our top priority,” Thompson said. “We are deeply concerned about this incident and the impact it had on the employees involved, as well as their co-workers who might have been affected by the incident. While the city is grateful that no one was physically harmed, we readily recognize the emotional impact that this incident has caused. We are working with them individually to meet their needs as they process and recover from this terrible and scary incident, including offering counseling and flexibility about return to work.”

The workers from the Department of Water Management were unclogging a sewer line near the insection of Nation Avenue and Bedford Street shortly after 7 p.m. when three men wearing black, including one with a gun approached them, according to police. They said the man with the gun waved it in the faces of two of the workers while the robbers took their wallets. The third worker also was robbed, they said.

“We are traumatized, and the city has done little to nothing to help us,” crew leader Ben Lang said. “I was very unhinged, and management did not help.”

A Durham police report from that night said the robbers got away with about $240 in cash and three credit cards from the workers. Police are continuing their investigation.

Lang said the city sent another crew member to the site after the robbery but no department managers came.

The workers were encouraged to continue their work without protection, Lang said. A short time late, the workers heard a gunshot nearby, they said. They remained until about midnight to finish the job.

“This incident shows that management in the Water Management department only care about getting the job done, even if that means risking the life and mental health of their workers,” Mayo said. “This is not the first incident of this nature the city has faced, and they still have no policy in place to protect their workers.”

Mayo wants to meet Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield to come up with policy changes to better protect workers at night, including how supervisors and managers respond, how the incident is reported and when to send employees home with full pay.

The union is asking the police to circulate every 15 minutes in areas where city crews are working after sunset.

“The police came and left after taking the report,” Mayo said. “Anything else could have happened, especially when workers are out at that time of night.”

Thompson said the city was reviewing police response to incident and trying to come up with additional protocols for them.

“We are continuing to work with the Police Department to review and determine additional response needs when incidents like this occur,” Thompson said. “Despite those efforts, we also recognize an unusual and unsettling event like this gives us an opportunity to reassess and improve our support of our staff, and we are committed to listening to these staff and their coworkers about their needs after an event such as this. We regret that our employees’ safety was put at risk though this terrible incident. We will continue to offer them the support they need to recover emotionally.”

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews