For some employees, the Portland Bureau of Transportation's maintenance facility at 2929 N Kerby Ave. is a little shop of horrors. It's a place where they were bound with duct tape, shot with popcorn kernels from an air-compressor gun, and forced to pick food off the floor in ritual humiliations.
And city officials have decided that's OK.
The details are spelled out in a nine-page report of a personnel investigation completed in January and obtained by WW. The report, based on interviews with nine PBOT maintenance employees, paints a picture of violence, hazing and bigotry inside a shop that prizes loyalty and punishes "snitching."
When the behavior was substantiated by an investigation, the response of PBOT management was to transfer the ringleader—and fire one of the whistleblowers.
The primary target of the investigation is an 11-year city employee named Jerry Munson, who served as a crew leader on the maintenance group's "liner crew."
That group of six workers performs a vital function, rehabilitating the city's aging sewer pipes by installing liners inside the pipes that stop them from rupturing and leaking. (Transportation workers repair sewer lines because that work has always been performed by maintenance workers, who were absorbed when PBOT took over the 450-employee Maintenance Bureau.)
The city personnel investigation found that for years Munson used a specially rigged high-pressure air gun to fire various hard objects at his subordinates. He allegedly targeted new employees the most. (Munson did not respond to WW's requests for comment.)
One of Munson's subordinates, Hayden Rich, reported Munson "shot him numerous times over multiple areas of his body with an air compressor gun" his first day on the job, according to the report. "He said he was shot with BBs, popcorn kernels and hard candies…the air-gun shots were painful and they left welts and bruises."
Maintenance official Scott Wojcicki interviewed nine employees, all of whom said they'd either been shot by Munson or seen him shoot others. One reported the shootings had been going on for "more than a couple of years."
Employees said they disliked being shot but felt powerless to do anything because "there's a culture in this place you can't snitch."
It was a culture in which supervisors last October not only helped immobilize a new employee with duct tape and locked him in a room but then sent a cellphone image to other city employees memorializing the event. WW has obtained that image (see photo above).
Bullying, the report says, was routine. Also on Rich's first day on the job, Nov. 7, 2016, for instance, he was assigned to clean up the liner crew's shed. When Munson and another veteran employee named Matt Hoyt returned to the shed from lunch, Rich told them he had finished the task and had nothing else to do. Hoyt, the report says, then dumped some french fries he was holding on the floor.
"Pick them up, bitch," Hoyt told the new employee, the report says. Rich hesitated, not sure what to do, then picked up the fries.
"Wow, you're a bitch for life, now," Munson told him. (Hoyt did not respond to a request for comment.)
Other employees accused Munson of making homophobic comments and tolerating a sign in the shop that had been altered from "DISTRICT 2" to "RICT 2," which at least one employee interpreted as a reference to Hitler's Third Reich and a reference to white supremacy.
Wojcicki, the city manager who conducted the investigation, did not find Munson's responses to the allegations against him convincing.
"You repeatedly either denied doing something or claimed you did not recall it, although you would then admit doing it," Wojcicki wrote.
In his conclusion, Wojcicki said it appeared Munson had begun shooting employees with his air gun as far back as six years ago, when he sprayed one with rock salt.
"Your co-workers have been attacked and bullied by you," Wojcicki wrote.
On Jan. 23, he proposed Munson be fired for "physical violence, discourteous treatment and bullying of co-workers, violating safety rules, inappropriate use of city resources, and dishonesty."
But Munson kept his job. He was merely demoted and moved within PBOT after his union contested his firing. "Part of our function is to ensure that the disciplinary process is fair and equitable, and that all allegations of misconduct are investigated in accordance with applicable contractual and legal standards," said Farrell Richartz, business manager for Laborers' Local 483, in a statement.
One of the employees who cooperated in the investigation did lose his job, however.
Russ Wilkinson alleges in a complaint filed March 23 with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that he was fired two days before his tenure as a probationary employee ended. "I believe this was in retaliation for participating in the investigation," the complaint says.
In his BOLI complaint, still under investigation, Wilkinson provides a possible explanation why superiors ignored Wojcicki's recommendation: "I know that Jerry Munson is the brother of Lee Munson, who is the acting director of the Bureau of Maintenance," Wilkinson wrote.
WW asked PBOT officials, including director Leah Treat, to explain. PBOT spokesman John Brady declined to answer questions from WW about Munson or the investigation, instead issuing a statement.
"We did take appropriate action to address this situation," Brady said. "Employee safety is of paramount concern to us, and we are taking steps to address the issues of hazing and bullying raised by this incident."
Brady also addressed Wilkinson's allegation about Munson's brother.
"Lee Munson has no supervisory authority, nor input into any employment decisions related to Jerry Munson," Brady said. "This is per PBOT and city of Portland policy."
City Commissioner Dan Saltzman assumed oversight of PBOT in January, when the bureau's previous commissioner, Steve Novick, left office. Saltzman's chief of staff, Brendan Finn, says the commissioner's office doesn't comment on personnel matters.
Portland lawyer Ben Rosenthal is representing Wilkinson in his BOLI complaint.
"We're talking about assault and battery in the workplace here," Rosenthal says. "It sounds sophomoric, but it's very serious."