Creating a Toxic Workplace Culture: Kutztown U Facilities Managers Were Systematic and Calculating

Photo credit: Indy_Slug, Flickr, Creative Commons

Editor’s Note: You can follow Raging Chicken Press’s full coverage of the abuse of workers at Kutztown University RIGHT HERE

Since Raging Chicken Press first broke the story about the systematic mistreatment of workers at Kutztown University, I’ve been asked one question more than any other: how on Earth was this allowed to go on for so long? A second question usually followed: why didn’t the workers organize and fight back?

Over the course of my interviews with Cory Lapp — the Grounds Supervisor who quit and blew the whistle on the abuse of workers — and nearly a dozen workers, it became clear that managers in the Facilities department were systematic in their abuse and used the existing administrative structure to protect themselves. And they were skilled at it. Cory Lapp quickly learned that his immediate boss, the Director of Facilities Business & Campus Services Kim Rhode, was a “manipulative, mastermind.” According to Lapp, “she is very intelligent. She’s very calculating. She’s sharp.”  If the former Director of Facilities, Jeff Grimm, was more prone to yelling and direct intimidation, the style of Kim Rhode and her partner in crime, Will Meeker, was more subtle and arguably more effective in maintaining a hostile work environment.

The kind of daily intimidation and manipulation that workers experienced could easily be missed by a casual observer or a hired consultant brought into review the “workplace climate” for a week or two. The image that most of us have of an abusive manager is that of the screaming tyrant, wagging a finger, threatening our jobs. But the reality is that most hostile work environments look much more like what has been going on at Kutztown for well over a decade.

Keeping You Off Balance While Violating Your Rights

HWEWordCloudMy first story on the abuse of workers at Kutztown University, began with Cory Lapp. Lapp was hired  as the university’s Campus Grounds Supervisor in November 2014. Four months later, Lapp abruptly resigned his position because of his disgust with the hostile work environment in the Facilities department. In an exclusive interview with Raging Chicken Press, Lapp explained that he quit largely because of the managing style of Director of Facilities Business and Campus Services, Kimberly Rhode, and Assistant Director of Campus Services, Will Meeker. Lapp characterized their managerial practices as “unfair treatment of their workers through micro managing, manipulation, deceitfulness, bullying, berating, belittling.” In this chapter of the story, I want to take a closer look at what those managerial practices looked like on a daily basis

Right from the very beginning of Lapp’s time at KU, Kim Rhode began what Lapp saw in hindsight as an attempt to build a case against him. Lapp said that it became clear very quickly that his approach to management did not fit the Facilities managerial playbook. The rules of the game were unlike any that Lapp had encountered before.  He told me a story of his first week on the job in which he was called in to Kim Rhode’s office because there was a winter storm on the way.

Will {Meeker} was on his hunting vacation. It was just me and Kim. She wanted me to come up to her office to discuss putting guys on standby for the next day because of the potential weather. I had asked Linwood Merkel, the mechanics supervisor, to come with me just to make sure I heard everything she was saying and I could delegate it to my crew properly afterwards, verbatim. It was like my fifth day. I was like ‘what the hell is this?’ So, Lin and I went up there. The way business worked back then in the beginning is that she put guys on standby for 15 minutes — that is, she would pay them for 15 minutes–between the hours of four and eight.  You’d get a OneCall or a text saying when she wanted you to come in the following day. And I knew at that time that something seemed very fishy to me. I’ll pay you fifteen minutes overtime, for four hours of being on call? Fifteen minutes is next to nothing.

Lapp was right to feel uneasy about the arrangement. The AFSCME contract us is pretty clear about the rules regarding pay for being on standby. Article 23 “Standby Time” lays it out plainly:

An employee is on standby during the period that the employee is required to remain at home and to be available for emergencies. Only employees who are required to be on standby are entitled to the compensation hereafter set forth. Such employees shall, at the Employer’s discretion, either be paid 25% of their regular base pay for such standby time or receive compensatory time off equivalent to 25% of such standby time. Employees shall be considered to be on standby time until officially released. Standby time shall not be considered hours worked for the purpose of overtime computation. An employee shall not be considered to be on standby time while being paid for call time.

Kim Rhode was making up her own rules. Worse yet, she sent her brand new manager to go to a meeting with workers and relay her orders — orders that were in violation of the contract.

Naturally I thought that was kind of weird. I didn’t know how the game was played. But I knew that wasn’t the way it was played. I said to Kim, “don’t you want to set a specific time?” I would want to say I will call you at exactly six o’clock, not say sometime between the hours of four and eight and then only pay you for fifteen minutes. In reality, that’s four hours of standby, not fifteen minutes.

But, being the new manager he was, he went to deliver the message as ordered.

After my meeting with Kim, I went back to the crew and told them what she told me. Well, the next day when they went to fill in their overtime slips they all put 4-8 for standby, because that’s the way it’s played. That’s what’s in the contract. Well, Kim freaked out on me. She tried to pin it on me saying that I did not tell the crew what she told me, that I misrepresented her…that kind of thing. I went to her office and I said “are you trying to tell me that you didn’t say that between 4 and 8 you’re going to get a message and I’ll pay you for 15 minutes for that?” It shows that back then when I started that was her approach. She did not abide by all the union bylaws.

Lapp said that Rhode and Meeker would pull this kind of thing all the time. Not only did it put individuals in a precarious situation to keep them off-balance and unsure of their position, it was rooted in a deep anti-union political agenda that Rhode and Meeker brought to the workplace, according to Lapp. “They demanded that their conservative, Republican, right-wing, management style was the way,” Lapp concluded. “That was their approach. And it didn’t work, it doesn’t work. Hence all the grievances…it didn’t work.”

She always tried to do that stuff. The reality is that the guys knew that and they were just putting their slips in like they were supposed to. But when it came to her desk, she tried to pin it on me. So I learned right from my first days: ‘what’s going on here?’ I got a great taste of the culture that was there. This was the game that she would play. I found it very interesting. I mean, if you would just abide by all the laws in that little blue book {union contract} we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I really didn’t know who I was talking to at that point. I mean, I was just very honest and forward with what I said. I didn’t know that she didn’t really care for that approach. I didn’t know what I was talking to, I didn’t know what I was dealing with. I was just being me.

So, during week one on the job, Kim Rhode had taken the first step of building an “official” case against him by setting him up for failure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that statement in my interviews with AFSCME workers at Kutztown. But that was the pattern: set a person up for failure, keep them off-balance, and create a paper trail of their “failures” in order to threaten their jobs if they did not fall in line.

In Lapp’s case, the straw that broke the camel’s back and led him to quit and blow the whistle on what was happening in Facilities, was when he got a call from a Human Resources representative to schedule his “unsatisfactory midterm evaluation.”

I was like, “really?” I was blown away by it. And then it was like a snowball event. I let them know that I didn’t really like their approach and that their approach doesn’t work. That’s why they will manipulate the system. The paper trail is going to say that I am unsatisfactory worker when in reality, I’m the best thing that could have happened to them. So that’s what they do, they manipulate. They make you out to be what you’re not, but they do it through the system. And it’s part of the policies and procedures they create. It’s kind of crazy. They make these policies and procedures almost to give themselves a job.

One worker I spoke to for my first story relayed just how maddening the process could be. She said that workers repeatedly complained to their supervisors, to the Social Equity Office, and to Human Resources, about everything from sexual harassment to workplace bullying. However, the lack of action on the part of the administration left people feeling that nothing would be done. When workers and members of the union, AFSCME, complained about Grimm, for example, they were often brushed off and told, “that’s just Grimmy,” she explained. Another worker who complained to the Human Resources department, became frustrated on one occasion and asked why the administration refused to believe him. He said that the Director of Human Resources, Sharon Picus, told him, “I believe 95% of what management tells me.”

In the context of Kutztown University, Cory Lapp’s experience was not the exception, it was the rule. Especially for those who would not blindly submit to the arbitrary rules of Facilities management.

The Unwelcome Mat: Isolate and Set-Up to Fail

packing paper
Photo credit: Packing paper – © chayathon, depositphotos.com

Shortly after my first story on the abuse of AFSCME workers hit the Internet, I received an email from a worker who wanted to tell her story. She said, “it would be healing for me to share with you what I experienced.” Because she is still working at the university, she was concerned about using her real name for fear of retaliation. For the purposes of this story, I will refer to her as “Joanne.”

Joanne’s introduction to mistreatment by Facilities managers did not come until later in her career. She told me that she has been employed at Kutztown University for twenty-seven years. “During my tenure, I was respected and valued as an employee and was promoted to positions I held in previous departments on campus,” she told me. “After I was ‘moved’ to Facilities, it was apparent to me immediately that my years of service and skills weren’t appreciated or respected.” Less than two-years later, Joanne took a $13,000 cut in pay just to get out of that office. “I gave up what I had worked so hard for during my career in order to get away from the hostility and mistreatment I had experienced in Facilities.”

Joanne worked in an office on campus for the first half of her career in which she was “respected by everyone,” trusted to take part in confidential meetings, and tasked with producing detailed internal reports for the President’s Office. “We all worked as a team,” she recalled.

All that changed as part of a significant reorganization at the university in 2010. Following a “position reassignment” as a result of the reorganization, Joanne went to see the Vice President of Administration and Finance, Gerald Silberman, to discuss the fact that her “position reassignment” did not meet her skill set.

In this meeting with Mr. Silberman, I asked for a reassignment to another position should one become available. {Shortly afterwards,} I was moved to Facilities to a position I was told would be very similar to what I had done {in my previous office}.  I was to manage their software/databases and assist with the implementation of new software start-ups. At the time, I was quite enthusiastic for what seemed to be an opportunity to return to the type of work I enjoyed doing.  This never materialized.

Joanne said that shortly after she was reassigned to Facilities, Kim Rhode went out on an extended leave, leaving only an office supervisor to help with her transition.

For the first six months of my reassignment, the only work I was given by my immediate supervisor was to “check/correct” key codes in the Facilities work order system.  I wasn’t given any other work during this time.  It was stated to me by my immediate supervisor that she wasn’t clear on what it was I was to be doing and I’d have to wait for Kim Rhode’s return for other work assignments.

When Kim Rhode returned to work, a familiar pattern set in. Joanne was never clear why Rhode disliked her and/or didn’t give her a chance to contribute to the Facilities office like she had done in other offices at the university. What followed seemed like death-from-a-thousand-cuts — a systematic and calculated process of driving Joanne out of the office.

After Kim’s return, I was given a software program disk (PAVER) used to calculate parking lot repair data, with expected projections for repair outcomes.  I was to implement this software, by myself, and was to give regular updates to Kim Rhode on my progress.  I was basically handed the program disc and not given any other direction.  It was stated to me by my supervisor that Kim said, “Let’s see what she can do with this.”  It was completely clear to me at that point that I was being set-up for failure.

Joanne said that PAVER is a complex program developed by the University of Colorado that is designed for someone with significantly more skills than she possessed. According to the software website, PAVER  was originally “developed in the late 1970s to help the Department of Defense (DOD) manage M&R for its vast inventory of pavements.” Joanne said,

I never was given any guidance on the implementation and was expected to figure it out on my own and provide detailed outcomes to Kim Rhode to be shared with Jeff Grimm.  In seeking information from the one-person support staff for the software at the University of Colorado, I was told that another university hired an engineer to implement the PAVER software for their university.

Her experience with the PAVER software was not an isolated incident. On several occasions she was given software to “figure out” on her own with little or no guidance or training. To make matters worse, Kim Rhode and Joanne’s supervisor isolated her from the rest of the office.

Cory Lapp summed it up perfectly – “Their approach was belittle, demean, suppress, beat down, and micro-manage.” Most days during my first year in Facilities, I sat in my cubicle and no one, not even my supervisor, acknowledged I was there.  It wore on me on a daily basis that I was isolated and had no support.  I felt demoralized.  I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone unless it had a specific purpose as to what I was doing.  The only time I did have interactions with other staff was when I was asked to fill-in for the front desk position or the Work Control Center position during staff absences.  Even then, if I talked to someone, I was asked by my supervisor as to what it was I was talking about.

It seemed that all of Joanne’s supervisors had it out for her. One day one of the staff in the office told Joanne that “she didn’t appreciate the fact that she had to show me what to do and that I made much more money than she did.” The staff member told her it was “unfair.” However, “when I brought these verbal attacks to my supervisor, nothing was done to deal with the issue.” Worse yet, it seemed her supervisor had been harboring a similar resentment. According to Joanne, “My own supervisor even commented to me on the fact that I made more money than she did and she was a manager.

I was made to feel that somehow I should be ashamed of the fact that I earned the salary I did and yet couldn’t figure out how to complete the assignments I was given to do in Facilities.  It was totally unprofessional in that I never should have had to defend my salary or be made to feel guilty that I earned what I did. These individuals never took into consideration that I had given 27 years of service to KU and that I earned my salary based on my prior achievements and subsequent promotions.  This was due to previously working for managers that valued and respected me as an individual and what I brought to my previous work assignments, in addition to working as a team – not in isolation — on a daily basis.

At one point there seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel — that she might be able to get reassigned to a different position in Facilities that was a better fit. The staff person responsible for Facilities Work Control Center left for another position on campus. Although the position was on a lower pay grade than Joanne’s current level, her supervisor told her that there was talk of reclassifying the position to a higher level after a “realignment” of the Business Services Division. Joanne said she would like the opportunity to fill-in for the position until the job was officially posted. She was given that opportunity and told she would be filling in for a few months.

According to Joanne, Kim Rhode told her that “she would provide daily or weekly one-on-one training opportunities for me.” At first, Joanne was encouraged.

At the onset of my assignment to the Work Control Center, it appeared that what I was told by Kim Rhode was going to happen.  She did come to our office and explain/show us how data was stored in the system, and explained why certain processes were in place to retrieve/enter data.

However, that only lasted for “a period of one-two weeks.” After that, all “guidance” came in the form of two-three page emails that were “difficult to decipher and understand.” When Joanne sought out additional explanation or clarification, she was met with a wall:

When I’d try to seek clarification in the numerous times throughout the day when Kim Rhode walked by my desk (many times with Will Meeker by her side), I was told she was busy and didn’t have the time and that I should seek clarification from my supervisor.  At the same time of my transition to the Work Control position, my immediate supervisor went on extended leave for several weeks and was also unavailable.

Despite being left to her own devices much of the time, Joanne continued on in the Work Control Center and slowly began to figure out the job. Then, just a few months later, her supervisor went on an another extended leave and Joanne began to fall behind on the work, “especially when I was deluged with phone calls for work requests across campus due to weather-related issues.”

On top of all of this, Kim Rhode did her best to make daily tasks unmanageable through micromanagement.

During the duration of the year I was assigned to the Work Control Center, I was expected to keep a detailed daily time log of everything I did each day, down to the minute.  Every single task I did had to be accounted for on this daily time sheet, including how many minutes it took to complete each task.  On its own, this time sheet created mental anguish for me every day because I knew if I didn’t turn in my time sheet at the end of the day, I’d be reprimanded.  I also knew if my minutes didn’t add up exactly to what was expected for the hours in the day, I’d be questioned and told about it.

Try to imagine working in a call center, and then having to record how many minutes you are on a call; how many minutes it takes you to dispatch the call for a trade to respond, and how many minutes it takes you to enter the work order, especially on bad weather days.  When I was taking calls during snow/rain events, I was logging in excess of 20-30 calls a day, plus dealing with customers walking in seeking assistance with keys, meetings, etc.  Yet, this daily time sheet was of more importance to Kim Rhode than me utilizing my time each day to get work completed.

After all that Joanne went through, you’d think she’d be ready to pack her bags and get out of there. However, she found aspects of her job that she really liked and began to find a rhythm.

In spite of the fact that I continued to be set up to fail, I enjoyed the work I was doing.  I enjoyed the interactions I had with campus/outside constituents and also the interactions I had with Facilities personnel who were in the field that I previously did not know.  It was shared with me that the customer service level had improved while I was in the Work Control Center and individuals personally told me they were happy to have me be handling their requests for service.

Joanne may have been appreciated by the people she served, but that didn’t seem to matter to Kim Rhode. When the permanent job for Work Center Control was finally posted, Rhode told Joanne that she would be moved to a receptionist position and put back on “software start-ups.” She told Joanne that she could still apply for the position, but she would be given no “special consideration” because she had been doing that very job for the past year. Regardless, Joanne did apply for the position. She told me that she “met the criteria needed for the position as was outlined by the internal job description.” After not hearing anything for several weeks, her supervisor told her that her “application wasn’t being considered because {she} didn’t meet the criteria of having had at least three years of call center experience.”

I disputed this finding, and stated that the internal job description I received never stated this and that it wasn’t justified.  I was basically told I was better off letting it go and that the front desk position would be better for me. Seriously?  I didn’t agree with the observation made by my supervisor, and said I wouldn’t be staying, and that I’d take a reduction in salary to leave.  I couldn’t take the mistreatment any longer. I wouldn’t be made a fool of by being reassigned to the receptionist position.  I was quite sure the next step in the process would be a demotion.

In the end, Joanne did decide to leave. She moved to a position across campus that paid $13,000 less than she had been earning. In her new position she says she is respected once again. “People talk to me, say good morning, and are personable,” she told me. “I’m thanked for work I complete, and feel like I’m part of a team and that people want to be around me.” There is one thing that she can’t quite put behind her, though.

The one aspect of this whole ordeal that is still unresolved for me is that I’ve had to give up so much of my salary – because of Kim Rhode and other individuals in the department who did nothing to support me.  She has no regard for this, or for any of the other past employees in the Facilities department that she mistreated. It’s unfair that an employee who gave 27 years of service to the university; who was respected and promoted in previous positions would have to give up $13,000 in annual salary in order to escape the mental anguish caused by Kim Rhode’s mistreatment.

Editor’s Note: Joanne is interested in seeing if there is any action she can take to recover some of her lost salary. Raging Chicken Press has agreed to serve as a point of contact for anyone who might be able to help. You can contact us at ragingchickenpress@gmail.com 

You’re Better Than Everyone Else at Stacking Rocks in the Hot Sun: “Make-Work Projects” for Speaking Up

640px-Coastal-rocksBob Fenstemacher took a job on the Kutztown University grounds crew in 2006 after spending the first 25 years of his working life at Western Electric, AT&T, Lucent, and  Agere in Reading (the company changed hands several times during the time he was there). “I went to Bloomsburg University,” Fenstemacher told me. “I was an accountant. That’s what my background was. Then I got into production and planning out there. So, I was there for 25 years until they closed in 2003.” After spending a couple of years helping his wife with her business, Fenstemacher found out about a job opening on the grounds crew at Kutztown University.

“I used to do that work when I had a nursery,” he said. “I figured I was still in decent shape and I thought, ‘I could do that.’ I applied for the job and was hired in August 2006.” Fenstemacher worked there until he retired in December 2014. According to Fenstemacher, he really enjoyed his job for the first year and a half or so — before Kim Rhode and Will Meeker took over as managers.

Fenstemacher described himself as fairly outspoken, especially when he thought that he or his fellow workers were being treating unfairly.

I’m the type of guy that…well, I won’t keep my mouth shut. And I know that’s what got me in trouble with them. It wasn’t my first rodeo, OK? I managed people before. This wasn’t my first job. I knew how to treat people. I knew that as a boss you couldn’t let people walk all over you, but at the same time you needed to be somewhat reasonable and form team work, not undermine the crew.

Fenstemacher recounted numerous occasions that he clashed with  Kim Rhode and Will Meeker. Frankly, the more examples he shared, the more it became clear how systematic and calculating Rhode and Meeker were in going after people who did not tow the line. He found himself in the Human Resources department more than once for a disciplinary hearing. However, Fenstemacher was undeterred and lodged several complaints with his superiors and his union representatives. Sometimes he was successful in getting Rhode and Meeker to leave him alone for a while, but it never lasted. As Fenstemacher put it,

Meeker and Kim have this vindictive way about them. If you cross the line and you question them or you speak up at a meeting then you get the shit jobs. Then the shit jobs role in. You would get all the shit jobs like turf repair, a lot of manual labor, push mowing, trimming, etc.

A perfect example of this was a “make-work” project given to Fentemacher one day when he was “not falling into line.” “You see,” he told me, “if you fell into line and kept your mouth shut, you were pretty much OK. If you tried to stand your ground on anything, it became pretty obvious that they were going to go after you.” Here’s how he described the payback doled out by Cory Lapp’s predecessor, Brett Fulton.

So, I had a job in front of the Rec Center. There were those river rocks, those big stone ones, those white stones around the base of some plants. They {his managers} felt that these river rocks were too close to the base of the plants, it was choking them off, and they weren’t getting enough water. I thought that was bullshit because the water still seeps in. But, I was given the job one day — to pull all the river rocks around the base of the plants. I asked how much and they said “ah, about a foot or so.” So, I did that and it took me a good part of a half a day to do it.

The next day, Brett comes to me and says, “Bob, you pulled those away too far. You gotta push them back in, they’re a little too far away.” I said, “what are you talking about? I did what you told me, but now you want me to push them back in?” So now I’m getting the feeling, ah, he’s just messing with me here. That’s what it seemed like they were doing.

So, I push them back in and now it’s like 2:25 in the afternoon and I was done with this. And I was done mentally and physically and it was like a Friday. I said, that’s it, I’m done. I went back to the shop and started putting tools away and cleaning up. Well, Brett was there and Will {Meeker} was there and I sat down in full view of these guys at about 2:30 and started doing my paperwork. Well, most guys didn’t come back until twenty-to-three, so I was ten minutes “early,” let’s say. So, I’m doing some paper work and then went back in the tool room to clean some stuff up. Both of them saw me,  in fact, Meeker walked past me and didn’t say boo or nothing.

So, the next week I get called in. I had a disciplinary thing about an unauthorized break. And I call Ray {AFSCME president} to come to this thing and he says, ‘what’s this all about?’ I go to the meeting and was told I took an unauthorized break. “We saw you back and we went to the video tape. We have all the time stamps and Kim was there. You were back at such and such a time and you were seen sitting down.” “Yeah, I was doing my paper work and putting tools away.” 

Fenstemacher ends up having to go to a disciplinary hearing in Human Resources to watch the video tape “evidence” that he had taken a ten minute break. After the “hearing,” Fenstemacher made an appointment with the Social Equity office to complain about the ongoing harassment. He followed up that meeting with a visit to the former Director of Facilities, Jeff Grimm. And, after that meeting he went to the Executive Director of Human Resources, Sharon Picus to make a complaint. “Picus told me she was going to contact Silberman. Well, maybe Silberman finally did something because all of a sudden, it became a non-issue — because I raised the roof enough and they didn’t like the way it was going. They knew, hey, this guy’s not screwing around, he’s starting to talk to people. So, they get off my back and they started picking on other people.”

That’s what it took to push back against the Facilities management.

Ultimately, though, Fenstemacher had enough. He decided to retire from Kutztown at the age of 62. But a last-ditch effort to be heard, Fenstemacher said that he asked for an exit interview with the Acting President, Dr. Carlos Vargas and the Vice President of Administration and Finance, Gerald Silberman.

I went through a lot of the stuff about the intimidation and how we’ve lost some good employees who just said “the hell with this.” You know, I was at the point in my career that I could speak up and I wish some other guys would have, but they were afraid for their jobs, they didn’t want to get the shit jobs. We lost some good employees because of their management style. I told this to Vargas. I told it to Silberman. Vargas had a couple of questions for me, I’ll give him that. Jerry did not have one question.

At the end of the meeting, I looked at Jerry – 45 minutes I was up there – I said, “Jerry, don’t you have any questions for me? After what I just said to you, you have no questions for me?” I said, “I’m pretty much telling you that your Facilities management team is terrible. They’re inept.” And he said, “well, I’ll tell you one thing, Bob. I will check with Dr. Brewer.”

Dr. Brewer was an outside consultant paid to help ease workplace tensions. Fenstemacher continued:

Jerry said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Bob. I will talk to Dr. Brewer and get her take on what’s going on because every time I talk with your management, I get 180 degrees from what you just said.”

I looked at him and I said, “Jerry, you’ve gotta be kidding. You need to come to grips with it, Jerry. Of course they’re 180 degrees from me, because they’re liars.” I said, “Jerry, what do I have to gain from come up here to talk with you and Dr. Vargas about these things? What do I have to gain, I’m retired. I don’t lie.”

Fenstemacher left that meeting pretty convinced that nothing would every come of that meeting. Several weeks went by. Fenstemacher was still not willing to let the issue go, so he sent Silberman an email.

I wrote him an email and I said, “Jerry, did you come up with anything? Did you talk with Dr. Brewer about my allegations? Because I really didn’t like being called a liar.”

He wrote me back. He said, “I am still in the process. I didn’t want to insinuate that I thought you were lying. And from your perspective, that’s the way it seems, but others have other perspectives.”

I was like, “Yeah, OK, Jerry, whatever.”

Whatever

So, this is “whatever” looks like. Very little, if anything, did come of Fenstemacher’s complaints. Kim Rhode and Will Meeker got back to ruling their little kingdom. Then three months after Fenstemacher retired, Cory Lapp quit and blew the whistle on the ongoing abuse of workers at the university. His two page letter documenting his experiences found its way under my office door and here we are.

When I contacted Kutztown University’s University Relations Office on Monday to inform them if they had any comment since the publication of my original story, but I was told to refer back to what they sent me last month. So here it is again:

Members of the campus community should be assured that the university has processes in place to review any allegations, and that they are taken very seriously.  However, it is our policy not to comment on personnel-related matters in a public venue. For this reason, neither the University nor its managers will respond to the specific assertions contained in this article.

Last night AFSCME workers held their April general membership meeting and I expect that Cory Lapp’s resignation and Raging Chicken Press’s reporting animated at least some of the discussion. Judging by the sheer number of people who have contacted me since our first story on the abuse of AFSCME workers at Kutztown University was published, there is an opportunity to put an end to a dysfunctional, abusive management culture once and for all.

Until that happens, Raging Chicken Press will continue to bring you the stories of workers who want to have their voices heard in order to bring about significant and lasting change in their piece of the world.

Stay tuned.

7 Comments on Creating a Toxic Workplace Culture: Kutztown U Facilities Managers Were Systematic and Calculating

  1. Great job! As the masthead says, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” This is typical of places that have incompetent management. They are always on the attack, or they will be exposed for what they are, incompetent toadies. Imagine how bad this is for workers who don’t have a union or options to transfer within a business. They usually quit, forfeiting the salary they have worked long and hard for, and the company hatchet-person wins as usual.

  2. Joanne, say now wonst! If what you just described is true (it must be true…who could make this stuff up) I believe that Kim Rhode is not as clever as Cory makes her out to be. She and Meeker have already cost the Pa. Taxpayers at least six figures in a lawsuit brought against KU by a former employee due to their “illegal” as determined by the courts, management style. Joanne, it appears to me that if PASSHE does a “complete and thorough” investigation you have a wery good shot at recouping the 13K per year that you have been denied due to Rhode’s bullying. Good luck to you, sounds like you took a lot of mental abuse at good old KU.
    Also, sounds like Rhode outsmarted herself by bringing in Dr. Brewer . The good Doc’s suggestion to use a Team Approach to select Cory blew up in her face and got the ball rolling on KU employees finally speaking out on how they have been treated by their manipulative managers. Kudos to you Dr. Linda Brewer ! If the final outcome of this unbelievable mistreatment of workers is that the culprits are removed from their lofty perches , the money paid to Dr. Brewer might have been worth it after all. That would be “chust lovely” !!!

  3. Qestion I do not believe linda brewer did very much , she should have recommended wil meeker and kim rhode departure long age . Second why could this been handled through hr director Sharon picus ? or was she bullied by the pant suit wearing tounge stud herself kim rhode ? Everyone knows the problem in the community however nothing gets done , once again where is the union support for these workers ? I also understand Gerald silberman is very ineffective and clueless ,and seems to care less about employees at ku just makes a big salary for what ? at least for now .

  4. I can not believe what I am hearing . Did the union collapse at ku? It has become a joke as these managers . I am under the understanding unions protect members. Well in my day they did , how could the union not prevent this rotten treatment to it ,s members . I understand members were fired for nothing , Nothing but lies from these hideous people, why is everyone afraid of them ? they seem to have very low self esteem and are truly unhappy with there life, so they must punish people around them . I would also like to mention from Cory Lapp,s post From what I see kim rhode is not at all smart, I see an evil person who,s days are numbered . Does anyone know what wil meeker is even qualified in ? I can not imagine wil meeker having any type of university degree . As I walk around campus I am not at all impressed with the landscapes , grass and trees are in horrible shape . Not quite sure where the grounds people get there direction from .

  5. I agree with the comment that Cory gives too much credit to Kim Rhode for being intelligent. No intelligent person sets up their employer to be sued in Federal court and lose. An intelligent person would not have been so careless and crave power that did not and does not exist. Great power comes from within. All other actions are those of poor self esteem.

  6. Regarding the issue of standby time mentioned in this article, I would like to clear the air on this. I was still employed by KU when this abuse of standby time occurred. Rhode and Meeker have manipulated standby time for the past several years. Initially, the grounds crew would be put on standby for at least four hours at a time due to the unpredictability of when the impending storm would start at KU. That eventually eroded to the point where we would only be put on standby for one hour which would let them hedge there bet as to the start of the storm. If it was still uncertain they would put us on standby for another hour later. We would be paid for 15 minutes (25% of 1 hour) for having to be ready to report . Rhode and Meeker then took their abuse of the system to new heights and we were put on standby for 15 minutes. That’ s right 15 minutes! This would allow them to ensure that we would be obligated to receive a text message or phone call as to when to report. Now with the 15 minutes of standby we would be remunerated for 3 and 3/4 minutes at our hourly rate. Sign me up for that! When Meeker told us one day that they would be putting us on standby for 15 minutes, I questioned him on it and he asked if I had a problem with it. I said that I did because they were abusing the real purpose of standby time. I also said that I thought Payroll would have a problem with it as they would have to process about 15 time slips for a mere 3 and 3/4 minutes of pay. As I recall we complained to the AFSCME local but nothing was done and we were paid for 3 and 3/4 minutes.

    Cory was absolutely set up for failure when he was involved with the standby issue discussed in this article. What boggles the mind is that Rhode and Meeker were allowed to spend frivolously on such things as Big Belly compactors at about 6000 dollars each and then they would lie about the labor savings they provided. Also, thousands of dollars were spent on such “big brother items” as cameras both inside and outside of the grounds shop, GPS tracking systems installed in all vehicles and mowers that we used in order to track idling time as well as our whereabouts on campus. They would get all these high ticket items approved by their superiors and yet would begrudge paying the employees who would work long hard hours on snow removal a few extra bucks for standby time. As someone posted earlier “you can’t make this stuff up”

  7. Amazing wil meeker showed his disgusting self at keystone breakfast wed. He should crawl back under the rock he came from , the abuse wil and kim rhode put his staff through is disgusting , even ray dunkle showed his face , sad he has no control or say how his union family are being treated . Apparently wil meeker kim rhode and Sharon picus are better at playing the bully game then the AFSCME UNION

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  1. RAGING MONDAY! Kevin Mahoney Talks with Rick Smith About Part II of the Ongoing Story of Worker Abuse at Kutztown and Anti-Union Crazies Demanding the Home Addresses of All PASSHE Employees | April 20, 2015 | Raging Chicken Press

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