Sixteen Miami employees of the U.S. government’s Radio/TV Marti who were laid off in a bitterly disputed move five years ago have won the next step of their lawsuit and demanded their jobs back plus damages.
The District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rejected an appeal by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) of an arbitrator’s ruling in 2010 that favored the stations’ former employees.
“BBG is currently reviewing the decision, both its short- and long-term implications,” the board said Tuesday. “We will carefully review the court’s ruling and work with the Justice Department to decide on appropriate next steps.”
Some of the former Marti employees lost their homes and suffered from depression when their salaries stopped, said Alberto Muller, who had a program on Cuba bloggers and was among the 16 laid off.
Muller, now 72, said he has spoken to about 10 of the 16 since the latest ruling, and they are happy but uncertain how the OCB and BBG will proceed. “The federal government moves slowly,” he said.
“It’s very gratifying that it looks like this long nightmare for the employees is coming to an end,” said Timothy Shamble, president of the employees’ labor union, American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812.
Shamble estimated back salary at roughly $10 million but said the total cost would likely include health and retirement benefits as well as the legal costs of the lawsuit.
The dispute dates back to 2009, when congressional critics of the stations tried to cut more than half of the broadcasters’ $31 million budget but eventually settled for a cut of about $4.2 million — which equaled about 35 job slots.
Eight to 10 job slots were not filled at the time, some jobs were saved with cuts in other costs, but 16 employees were eventually laid off by OCB under Pedro Roig, head of the broadcasters from 2003 to 2010,
Employees at the time immediately and bitterly complained to Local 1812 that the 16 had been selected out of personal biases and in violation of collective-bargaining agreements and layoff regulations.
“Compared to the charges of cronyism, waste and mismanagement that dominated this dispute in its earlier stages, the legal issue we confront is quite tame,” said the Court of Appeals ruling, dated May 16.
The workers and the union filed a complaint in 2010 with the Federal Labor-Management Authority, and an arbitrator ruled that OCB violated the collective-bargaining agreement in the way the lay-offs were carried out.
The 16 were selected as part of a “bad faith plan by Roig to at least intimidate if not actually get rid of, his internal critics,” the arbitrator wrote. Roig declined to comment for this story but in the past has defended the manner in which the lay-offs were done.
The arbitrator ordered OCB to reinstate all the employees and pay damages, but OCB appealed to the district court in Washington, which ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in the dispute.
Appeals courts cannot review decisions on labor disputes involving federal workers unless there are allegations of unfair labor practices, the appeals court noted in its 13-page finding.
The current director of OCB, lawyer Carlos Garcia-Perez, declined to comment on the appeals-court ruling.