Public Employee Press: PEP Talk
City cannot use Geotab data against its workers
By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
DC 37 leaders successfully fought bad driving reports that City agencies issued based on Geotab telematics data it collected and used to illegally discipline union members after taking the case to the impartial Board of Collective Bargaining (BCB).
The recent BCB ruling slams the brakes on City agencies like the Parks Department, the Department of Design and Construction, and the Department of Transportation that all disciplined employees for their driving solely based on data collected by Geotab tracking.
“The City has a fleet of 31,000 vehicles that our members operate. Managers were using Geotab data arbitrarily and unfairly to track and progressively discipline some of our members, so we fought to protect them and we put a stop to the City’s wrongful practice,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido.
“The BCB said the City must bargain with the union over the use of telematics data for discipline and must bargain over creating a disciplinary structure for alleged driving violations, as these alleged violations were normally handled by law enforcement,” explained DC 37 Assistant General Counsel Onya Brinson. “The decision impacts all DC 37 members who are issued vehicles across City agencies from the Department of Design and Construction to the DOT.”
DC 37 Parks Committee Co-Chair and Local 1505 President Dilcy Benn said this decision is a huge victory for DC 37 and her local. “I’ve had members disciplined or terminated because of Geotab tracking data. My next step will be to get those members’ records cleared and their jobs restored.”
The decision primarily affects DC 37 members in Locals 376, 924, 983, 1320, 1455, 1505, and 1740.
“The union has been actively fighting against tracking technology for decades. This latest version, Geotab telematics, is even more invasive for our members,” said Joe Puleo, DC 37 Parks Committee Co-Chair and Motor Vehicles Operators Local 983 President. “I commend DC 37 lawyer Onya Brinson for her work. We are definitely concerned about public safety for all, including our members’ safety, but using Geotab to discipline workers went beyond the public safety mission of the Vision Zero program.”
For more than 20 years, employees driving City vehicles manually logged trips and the agency issued tickets for every trip taken. The City began using tracking technology in its vehicles in 2014. In 2017, the City upgraded to Geotab telematics, which AT&T monitors, to collect data on speed, acceleration, excessive braking, speed camera infractions, seatbelt use, vehicle idling, and location. In 2018, City managers at various agencies began issuing progressive discipline against some workers based solely on Geotab data.
Wilson Valera, a Local 376 seasonal Assistant City Highway Repairer, testified at the BCB hearing that for the four years he worked prior to Geotab, DOT did not discipline employees for driving infractions. In Oct. 2019, however, DOT gave Valera a verbal warning for allegedly speeding. Five days later, he got a written warning based only on Geotab data.
“I’ve had members disciplined or terminated because of Geotab tracking data. My next step will be to get those members’ records cleared and their jobs restored.”— Dilcy Benn
Local 1505 President & DC 37 Parks Committee Co-Chair
“DOT relies on Geotab data without considering extenuating circumstances like speeding up to move out of the way for emergency vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances, or police,” said NYC Traffic Employees Local 1455 President Mike DeMarco, who testified along with the local’s Vice President Robert Spiro. “Prior to the DOT’s camera violation policy, employees were not disciplined for speeding or other traffic law violations. Instead, employees were simply obligated to pay fines associated with vehicles they drove.”
Local 983 Treasurer Marlena Giga testified that at a 2019 disciplinary conference, a Parks Deputy Inspector told her that an employee monitors Geotab data and emails supervisors about infractions. “Parks issued the Geotab key fobs without training or instruction on their use. Prior to Geotab, DPR had not disciplined employees for location violations, nor initiated discipline based solely on telematics data,” she said.
Giga said a Local 983 Urban Park Ranger received a “Supervisor’s Conference with Employee” memorandum in 2019 confirming her supervisor’s allegation that the UPR was driving 75 mph in a 45 mph zone. Parks relied solely on the Geotab email.
Union witnesses all testified that since Geotab came into use, the City has issued dozens, if not hundreds, of verbal and written warnings to its employees based exclusively on Geotab notifications for traffic infractions and location exceptions.
“Geotabs track our members 24 hours, 7 days a week and management uses the data for discipline without consideration to false positives, where a telematics device misinterprets the vehicle’s location and incorrectly reports an infraction,” DeMarco said.
“DEP didn’t inform us they were installing tracking devices on vehicles,” said Sewage Treatment Workers Local 1320 President Thomas Curstance. “The Geotab data could lead to a suspended license, or jeopardize a member’s employment if their CDL license is revoked.”
Curstance said DEP generates an incident report from the Geotab data, which goes to an Accident Prevention Committee. “My member was driving to the Jamaica DEP plant, missed the turn-off, and went into JFK Airport. The next day he was notified that he was inside JFK idling. DEP issued a warning letter without any consideration. They didn’t ask why,” said Constance. “It took me three months to have the letter removed from his record.”
Kyle Simmons, President of New York City Laborers Local 924, testified that OLR and DCAS representatives said, “vehicle-tracking data would not be used for disciplinary purposes… just to monitor.” But in March 2021, Simmons said managers advised the unions that the notifications may be used for discipline. “The potential for abuse by management just monitoring certain people that they didn’t like is very real,” he said.
“They could call workers in for questioning because they washed up or ate lunch at a park or shopping mall or had to travel out of their area to get supplies,” Simmons said. “What if the member can’t recall the details?”
Civil Service Technical Guild Local 375 President Michael Kenny testified that between March and August 2019, he received four DDC warnings for excessive speeding that stated, “Repeated speeding violations that exceeds three occurrences, may result in the suspension of your driving privileges.”
“New York City Collective Bargaining Law is very clear that while employers have the right to discipline employees as needed, the methods, means and procedures of effectuating disciplinary action are mandatory subjects of bargaining,” Brinson said.
“In 2014, the Union withdrew an Improper Practice Petition against the City based on the expressed promise by that if it ever used then-Canceiver data for disciplinary purposes, notice would be provided to the Union. In 2018, the Union discovered the City was now using Geotab telematics data as a new method of discipline for alleged unsafe driving practices without providing notice to the Union. With this favorable decision,” Brinson said, “the Board has made a clear and unequivocal statement that the City must bargain with the Union when creating new methods of discipline.”