The job of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management is to help leaders at both the state and local levels prepare for and respond to natural disasters and other types of emergencies. The biggest crisis the office has had to deal with in the last few months, however, is a labor controversy within its own ranks.
As the Statesman Journal recently reported, a public employees’ union – the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employee Council 75 Local 3421 (AFSCME) – filed two complaints on May 15 and 16 alleging that Martin Plotner, the director of the Office of Emergency Management, had retaliated against some employees on account of their union activities. This pair of complaints is the first to be lodged against the Office of Emergency Management since 2007; the union’s attorney, Jennifer Chapman says that the AFSCME normally tries to resolve labor problems at a lower level, but the many complaints about Plotner’s behavior merited the union making an official compliant.
AFSCME’s Complaints Allege Discrimination Against Active Union Members
According to the AFSCME’s first complaint, Plotner met in January with Georges Kleinbaum – a union member who served as the AFSCME’s chief steward at the Office of Emergency Management – at a restaurant to let him know that he was being laid off from his job. According to Kleinbaum, Plotner gave him two options for how to proceed with the layoff, but told him not to speak to anyone including the union representatives, about their meeting. Kleinbaum did in fact speak with other employees about the meeting, as was his right, and when Plotner found out, he became very agitated and shouted at Kleinbaum. The first complaint also alleges that Plotner talked to other people about the layoff before speaking to Kleinbaum or the union about it. He also had tried to get Kleinbaum replaced as the chief steward and had micromanaged his work in various ways, including requiring Kleinbaum to obtain approval before sending certain emails.
AFSCME’s second complaint concerns Plotner’s behavior toward employees other than Kleinbaum. The union alleges that Plotner discriminated against Office of Emergency Management employees based on how active they were in the union. In particular, the complaint contains an allegation that Plotner gave sharper scrutiny to the work and general behavior of employees who were more active in the union (which included an employee in whom Kleinbaum had confided about the January layoff meeting).
The Oregon Department of Justice is currently investigating the AFSCME’s claims of unfair labor practices. Plotner only began working as the Director for the Office of Emergency Management in September of 2012, and he will not be able to return to this job, no matter what the outcome of the investigation. However, if the Oregon Employment Relations Board clears Plotner, he will be able to get another job within the Oregon Military Department, which oversees the Office of Emergency Management. For his part, Kleinbaum was fortunate not to be laid off after all – he is currently working as Oregon’s search and rescue coordinator. Despite the favorable outcome for Kleinbaum, the AFSCME undoubtedly wants to make sure that employers across Oregon, including the state itself, know that discriminating against workers who are active in their unions will not be tolerated.
If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you for any reason – including your participation in union activities – please contact one of our experienced and devoted attorneys, who can help you pursue your claim.