OCB and IBB executives show contempt for employees and law, face criticism from Victor Ashe

BBG Watch Commentary

MartiCheered on by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff, the current administration of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) has exhibited no intention to mitigate the case involving the RIFed Radio and TV Marti employees, OCB sources told BBG Watch. The Office of Cuba Broadcasting oversees the operations of Radio and TV Martí from its headquarters in Miami, Florida.

Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Ambassador Victor Ashe said that “BBG is inappropriately spending taxpayers money with this now three year lawsuit.” The issue may be one of several discussed at the Broadcasting Board of Governors Strategy & Budget Committee meeting on March 14 at agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) had rejected all of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ exceptions to Arbitrator Suzanne R. Butler’s decision in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting RIF (reduction-in-force) case (http://www.flra.gov/decisions/v66/66-182.html) involving illegal firings of OCB broadcasters. It is likely, however, that the agency’s lawyers will continue to appeal unless BBG members order them to accept the FLRA ruling.

The agency lost on all of the 30 issues for which BBG lawyers filed exceptions.

Arbitrator Butler’s decision was a very strong one and the FLRA rebuke was total and practically eliminates any chance of a successful appeal.

In September 2012, top Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) executives who were then in charge of the BBG-funded surrogate broadcaster used special Russian security guards and other coercive measures to fire about 40 employees, mostly journalists and Internet specialists, at the news bureau in Moscow. The action outraged Russian human rights and democratic opposition leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev. Read: ‘Special operation’ at Radio Liberty Moscow. While the RFE/RL president has been replaced, some of the members of the previous management team still hold their former positions. Newly-appointed acting president Kevin Klose is said to be working on reforming the management structure at RFE/RL and on rehabilitating the unjustly fired journalists.

The AFGE Local 1812 union representing BBG employees sent a letter to the International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo, who is responsible for BBG’s administration and the General Counsel’s office, informing him that the union would win this case and giving him the opportunity to settle it. Lobo chose to listen to agency officials who, as he was informed by the union, were giving him bad advice. The costs for this one case will be in the millions and are increasing daily.

After their plea was dismissed by IBB Director Lobo, AFGE Local 1812 union leaders appealed to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to end the case now and to hold officials responsible for this debacle accountable. “Perhaps that is why they just want to proceed with an appeal because they can’t admit that they are responsible for such a disaster and are just buying for time,” one union leader said.

“No doubt they will continue this lawsuit for more years with the end result being negative, with cost escalating into millions of dollars in interest and unpaid court orders,” a BBG insider told BBG Watch.

Several positions have been opened within the recent past at OCB, both for permanent employees as well as for contractors. Despite having extensive experience working for the agency and a thorough knowledge of its rules and regulations, as well as the capacity to carry out the job responsibilities, none of the RIFed employees has been selected for these jobs.

OCB sources charge that Carlos A. García-Pérez, Director, Office Of Cuba Broadcasting, along with the rest of BBG, refuses to adhere to the two judicial decisions overwhelmingly in favor of the RIFed employees to re-hire and compensate them for the unjustifiable lay-offs and hardship.

OCB sources mentioned three former employees who have been victimized by the management.

“An illegally RIFed OCB journalist, Salvador Blanco, 56, was one of the most recognized TV personalities in Cuba during the 1980s. His outspokenness against the violations of the most basic human rights in Fidel Castro’s Cuba landed him in jail for three years. He is more than capable of holding any position within the TV Marti newsroom including camera, editing, producing, and not to mention his exceptional journalistic capabilities. Yet, his accomplishments have garnered little regard within the current OCB directorate.

Another illegally RIFed OCB journalist, Luis Guardia, 47, has directed and produced more than three dozen documentaries on Cuba, including detailed accounts of human- and civil-rights violations on the island. His documentary, “Guevara: Anatomy of a Myth,” has been translated and exhibited in more than 30 countries. Luis can easily work as a reporter, producer, director, or editor.

Roxana Romero, 41, also illegally RIFed, worked as a reporter in Miami and most recently, a correspondent in New York for TV Marti (she also free-lanced for VOA Central News). She was the only one-person band who worked as a reporter, producer, writer, editor, videographer, providing five news packages a week to the news department.”

Some of the OCB RIFed employees provided BBG Watch with this commentary:

“Since the beginning, Mr. Garcia (Carlos A. García-Pérez, Director, Office Of Cuba Broadcasting) has washed his hands of any responsibility pertaining to the RIFed employees. His motto alluded to the fact that he did not create the problem, therefore it was not his to fix. Many a past president in this great country of ours has had to repair the damages of previous administrations. They simply cannot turn the page without first assessing and repairing the damage created by their predecessors. As such, even though Mr. Garcia did not order the RIF of December 2009, it was – and continues to be – HIS responsibility to correct the wrong-doings of the past. He, along with the rest of BBG refuses to adhere to the two judicial decisions overwhelmingly in favor of the RIFed employees to re-hire us and compensate us for the unjustifiable lay-offs and hardship we have all had to endure. He appears to have no plan whatsoever for the reinstatement of the employees, which is what he should be reporting to the Board. He continues expanding his current workforce with contractors that are laid off employees from other Spanish stations in the area, while the RIFed employees are still waiting to return to work. His disdain to do so continues to cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.”

A BBG member, Ambassador Victor Ashe, who has been trying to restore civility and to force executives to start treating rank and file employees with decency and dignity, has himself become a target of a behind the scenes smear campaign by anonymous IBB officials. They are particularly worried that Ashe’s public comments will focus attention on legal decisions that went against them and on the crisis at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), for which they bear responsibility together with the former RFE/RL management team.

Ashe, however, is not giving up. He has been quoted recently questioning the judgement of senior agency executives and criticizing the anti-employee corporate culture they have imposed at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. They have been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OMP) employee surveys as being the worst managers in the federal government but have been protected and even awarded with outstanding performance bonuses by IBB Director Richard Lobo.

VICTOR ASHE: “BBG is inappropriately spending taxpayers money with this now three year lawsuit. It will go another two to three years while these people who have prevailed so far are left hanging,” Ashe said. “I feel badly about this. The General Counsel’s office is driving this and the Board should educate itself on this and determine whether to allow it to go forward or bring it to a halt. Lots of tax dollars are involved here. Should the lawsuit continued to be lost at each level as has happened to date, then the exposure is millions of dollars.” Ashe added.

Ashe was also quoted as saying that lately he has been asking for reports at each BBG meeting on the status of the lawsuit, which is omitted from the Office of Cuba Broadcasting legal report.

Sources tell BBG Watch that there exists an atmosphere of fear within the walls of OCB, perpetrated by the office of the directorate with support from IBB executives who treat all BBG employees and contractors in a similar fashion. Some top members of the IBB leadership had defended the previous Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty management team, which brought Radio Liberty to a near destruction in Russia. Fortunately, BBG members acted to restore good management at the Prague-based broadcaster by selecting Kevin Klose as the new acting president. The issue of illegally RIFed OCB employees, however, still remains unresolved, as does the issue of fired Radio Liberty Moscow bureau journalists.

OCB employees are scared of losing their jobs and becoming the latest victims of another unjustifiable RIF. Those who disagree with the directorate and have voiced their disapproval have been targeted, sources say, pointing to a recent screaming incident between Carlos Garcia and a TV technician who has worked at OCB for over two decades.

IBB and other BBG executives should be treating their employees and contractors as the agency’s greatest asset. Instead, they treat them with contempt, instill fear, RIF experienced journalists, exploit contractors, violate workers’ rights, and expand unproductive bureaucracy while cutting programs. This cancerous corporate culture, which is pushing U.S. international broadcasting toward destruction, will not change unless the BBG Board acts to remove these failed executives.

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