With Back Pay —
Union Member Fired
For Filing Grievance
Back on the Job
back, Liz! Greeting Liz Blatt (second from left) on her return to CVOEO
after an unjust firing are, from left, Head Start Chief Steward John
Payne, Blatt, Maryann Chamberlain and Local 221 Pres. Annette Vachon.
A UE Local 221 member fired because management regarded a
grievance as "lying" is back on the job, thanks to union persistence
and community support.
In July, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO)
Head Start program gave home visitor Elizabeth Blatt a warning for an
allegedly inappropriate conversation with her supervisor, despite the reports
of witnesses to the contrary. Blatt has been with the agency for seven years.
Management fired Liz Blatt when the union filed a grievance on
her behalf, on the grounds that the grievance represented "lying"
and "filing a false document." Union members said this was like
being given a prison sentence for contesting a parking ticket.
VIOLATION OF BASIC UNION RIGHTS
Of course, the right to file a grievance to protest unjust
discipline is part of the collective bargaining agreement between UE Local 221
and CVOEO. And Local 221 responded to the firing with another grievance, and
an unfair labor practice charge.
When union members returned to work in September, they wore
yellow ribbons pinned to their shirts on the first day — and continued to do
so until Liz Blatt was reinstated.
Given the costliness of arbitration, Local 221 members
employed by CVOEO felt that the agency’s resources would be better spent on
improving services to families instead of harassing its employees. That was a
message CVOEO workers hoped to bring to the agency’s Board of Directors.
CVOEO BOARD REFUSES
But when UE members tried to speak to the CVOEO board about
their concerns, they were shut out. The board, in the past willing to listen
to employees’ concerns, abolished the "open forum" part of its
meetings, and refused to allow UE members a place on the agenda. While the
board has no legal obligation to listen to its employees, UE members were
disturbed that an agency which describes its mission as "justice and
equity" would refuse to listen to its employees’ concerns about their
basic union rights being violated at work.
Meanwhile, the Workers Rights Center alerted those on its
email list about the Liz Blatt case. Many Worker Rights Center supporters
answered the request for support and as a result phoned and emailed Tim
Searles, the director of CVOEO, as well the agency’s board of directors.
Searles responded that the UE and the Workers Rights Center were wrong that an
injustice had been done to Liz and that a subsequent arbitration hearing would
make sure the "facts" were presented.
THE FACTS PRESENTED
The hearing took place in November; shortly before Christmas,
the arbitrator issued his decision. The arbitrator ruled that not only was Liz
Blatt unjustly fired but also that she was unjustly given a written warning.
The arbitrator ruled that the warning be removed from Blatt’s file, that she
be reinstated to her old position and "made whole." (Meaning, Blatt
will be paid all her lost wages and other expenses, minus any earnings, for
the period of time she was without a job.
The arbitrator also agreed with the union that CVOEO failed to
meet its contractual obligation to properly and fairly investigate the
Liz Blatt and Local 221 were assisted by Field Org. Heather
UE News - 03/01