Good news for free journalism in Cuba – some illegally fired Radio and TV Marti staffers to be reinstated by BBG – EXCLUSIVE

BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE

In a development that reflects well on the current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) broad, its chairman Jeff Shell, and new interim BBG CEO André Mendes, BBG Watch has learned that most of the illegally RIFed (reduction-in-force) employees of Radio and TV Marti were informed by the BBG and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) that they will be reinstated as OCB employees later this month. Their reinstatement had been ordered by a Federal Arbitrator and affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. 16 OCB employees were illegally fired in 2009. Of these, nine are expected to be reinstated later this month if there are no further bureaucratic delays. According to sources, there is still a controversy regarding two other employees from the original group seeking reinstatement.

In a non-related recent development, the Obama Administration is proposing to de-federalize the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the Latin American Division of the Voice of America and turn them into a non-federal, grantee organization. Some critics view this proposed action as a White House concession to the Castro regime as part of the proposed normalization of relations with Cuba. It could also be an attempt by the Obama Administration to deny any direct responsibility for Radio and TV Marti reporting. The AFGE Local 1812 BBG employee union is strongly opposed to the de-federalization plan.

Illegally fired Radio and TV Marti employees have been out of work and without any pay for several years. They have suffered tremendous personal and financial hardships: loss of health insurance, illnesses, divorces, personal bankruptcies, loss of businesses and home mortgage foreclosures.

READ: Roxana’s Story by Roxana Romero, BBG Watch, July 23, 2013

 

READ: Salvador’s Story by Salvador Blanco, BBG Watch, August 28, 2013

 
Until BBG Chairman Jeff Shell intervened and ordered that the case be quickly settled, former BBG managers, assisted by agency lawyers, did everything possible to prevent illegally RIFed employees from returning to work.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors had conducted a reduction-in-force (RIF) beginning in late 2009. AFGE Local 1812 filed a grievance over that RIF that ultimately was brought to arbitration. In November 2011, Federal Arbitrator, Suzanne R. Butler, ruled that the employees were to be brought back to work and receive back pay. The BBG filed exceptions to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). In September 2012 the FLRA dismissed or denied all of the BBG’s exceptions.

The BBG then appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The three judge panel dismissed the BBG’s appeal in a ruling issued on May 16, 2014.

On November 19, 2014, the illegally RIFed employees discovered that sizable partial payments for the back pay they are owed had appeared in their bank accounts.

The AFGE Local 1812 BBG employee union leadership fought hard on behalf of the OCB journalists.

If all goes according to plan, most of the RIFed employees are expected to report back to work later this month.

In an article posted on the AFGE Local 1812 website at the end of November 2014, the union thanked various individuals and groups who stood by the illegally fired journalists.

AFGE LOCAL 1812: “So we would like to thank: Arbitrator Butler, who had the courage and ethics to follow the facts and rule accordingly, former AFGE Local 1812 Vice President Niurka Fernandez, who refused to allow injustice to stand and who fought tenaciously and passionately so that other Union officials understood what had taken place and convinced the AFGE Local 1812 Executive Board to take on this fight; the members of the AFGE Local 1812 Executive Board who voted to support the effort; the forceful, brilliant and idealistic AFGE attorney Leisha Self, who was indefatigable in presenting the employees’ case; the late AFGE District 14 National Vice President Dwight Bowman who lent his full support and AFGE District 14 resources to the effort; Broadcasting Board of Governors Member [now former], Victor Ashe, a voice of reason, honesty and integrity, who publicly encouraged his fellow Board members to end the legal maneuvering and make restitution to those who had been wronged. Last but not least, thanks to CUSIB officials Ann Noonan and Ted Lipien who took up the illegally-RIFed employees’ cause, focused attention on the OCB case and refused to allow the BBG members to ignore it.
 
After the case was finalized in the courts in May 2014, but delays to the settlement award persisted over a number of months, we are thankful that the logjam was broken and so, give thanks to BBG Chairman Jeffrey Shell who directed Agency officials to stop the delays, do the right thing and implement the award, to Director of Engineering and Technical Services Andre Mendes who found a way to get the partial payments to the employees and in so doing, helped to prevent at least one of them from being evicted from his home. Finally, thanks go to all those who despite the threat of retaliation were willing to testify on behalf of their fellow OCB employees, because without the courage to stand up to the abuse of power, justice would never have been served.”
 
READ MORE: A Time to Give Thanks, AFGE Local 1812, November 2014

 

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