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Yet Another Uniform Change for the Highway Crew -Out Of The Potholes And Into The Dressing Room



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Yet Another Uniform Change for the Highway Crew –

Out Of The Potholes And Into The Dressing Room

By Steve Bigham

It seems there is always something to groan about down at the Newtown Highway Department. There are endless potholes to fill and roads to pave in the summer. Winters are spent behind the wheel of a snowplow.

But as the days heat up, there is now a new issue to tackle on Turkey Hill Road: fashion.

The highway department has suddenly become image conscious. For the second time in less than a year, the crew has been outfitted with new uniforms. It’s all part of the town’s efforts to standardize its parks and recreation and highway crews. As Public Works Director Fred Hurley points out, the police department is in uniform, so why not the highway department?

So, like school boys getting ready for the prom, a large contingent of highway crew members lined up at Ben’s uniform store in Danbury last Friday to be fitted for what are being called “Public Works Blue” uniforms. Last October, the 40-man (and woman) crew began wearing “charcoal gray” or “battleship gray” shirts and pants. Those have since been scrapped.

Workers say they have no problem with the whole idea of wearing uniforms. However, they are now taking issue with the most recent “uniform order” coming out of the first selectman’s office. Last week they were heard complaining about the high price and poor quality of the clothing they were getting this time around. What’s worse, it may end up costing each worker more than his or her $225 clothing allowance. In order to purchase enough shirts and pants, they may have to use their own money. It’s a “hare-brained” idea, they say.

Milton Adams drove to Danbury last Friday to get fitted, but he had already spent a large portion of his allowance on new coveralls. That left him with barely enough cash to buy a $12 T-shirt and a $24 pair of pants.

“Carole Ross said I’ll just have to wash them every day after work. I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m going to be a pretty smelly guy come Wednesday.”

Mrs Ross is the town’s human resources administrator and has apparently taken on the role as fashion coordinator. She said the town had to switch vendors and could no longer order the gray uniforms.

“The town is simply trying to make the highway department look more professional,” she said. “I think the town providing the highway department with uniforms is a good thing.”

Crewmembers counter by saying that if the town is going to tell them what to wear, they should provide them with enough money to allow them to purchase suitable clothing.

“If they want us in uniform – supply them,” Mr Adams said.

“At least the initial set,” Bob Calabrese added.

This week, highway crew members said they have always had to struggle for respect and this most recent uniform issue has only served to send “morale down the toilet.”

“Last year, I spent $311 to buy seven pairs of pants, nine shirts, two sweatshirts, and a jacket,” explained Mr Calabrese. “Now I got four pairs of pants and six shirts for $250. That’s twice as expensive as the other place [Liberty Army & Navy].”

Some members also complained that the winter jackets were far too thin.

The requirement to wear the uniforms is part of the highway department’s contract. Also included in the agreement is a provision that provides workers with money to buy clothing. Mrs Ross said the town did not kick in extra money this time around because the crew was not required to buy a complete outfit as had been the case the year before.

Still, say members, it would have been a nice gesture, especially since the town is now requiring them to all dress alike.

“It used to be we were given $225 to get whatever we needed. Then they decided they wanted us all to look the same,” Mr Adams said.

“All we want is quality and enough,” Mr Calabrese said.

Mrs Ross was present at last week’s fitting, watching intently as each worker was fitted.

“It’s very difficult to please 40 men,” she said. “Some are okay with it and some are not. We do the best we can.”

About 20 workers showed up at Ben’s last Friday (some earning time and a half pay while they waited) only to depart without getting fitted. They had to get back to the garage to punch out. That means they will have to go back again, costing the town more money in man-hours.

Mr Hurley said complaining is all part of the norm down at the highway department.

“Complaining has always been an acceptable way of life here,” he said. “The public complains to us and we complain about what we do.”

Through all the grief, however, no one can argue over the fine appearance of this crew. Do the new uniforms have the luxury of comfort and utility? That’s debatable, but at least everyone looks the same.

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