Not since David slew Goliath . . .

umglogoOn January 28, Rockford Register Star Copy Editor Paula Buckner was discharged for “rude and disrespectful” comments to coworkers.  Buckner, who worked at the paper for 22 years, had the temerity to comment on how the newly formatted obits looked (she said they looked “like shit”) and question their oversized appearance.

**NOTE:  The Register Star recently went with a larger font on its obits and now squares them off as well.  Employees and readers alike don’t approve of the change and remark that it makes their paper look “really small town.”  This change gouges families by forcing them to buy bigger (and therefore more expensive) obits.

A management executroid was on hand during the exchange and informed Buckner the change to the size of obits was so older readers could see them easier.  Her reply (which I love, btw) was, “We had old people 20 years ago and we just now figured out that they have difficulty reading 8 or 9 point type?”

Days later, the paper called in Buckner and gave her a letter which cited other instances of her speaking out and terminated her.  The Guild, in turn, claimed that Buckner was a conscientious employee and pointed out that her colorful remarks were always about the quality – or lack thereof – of the work product and filed a grievance demanding her reinstatement.  The parties are now headed to arbitration.

**NOTE:  Even though we have not yet completed negotiating a contract at the Register Star, we are able to file and arbitrate grievances as a result of a mutual agreement signed and made enforceable on 2-24-15. 

In the past, when a bargaining unit member would depart, their unemployment insurance was always contested by the paper (but after a cursory review, the departed employee would still receive it).  I’d remarked on more than one occasion just how pernicious I’d thought their position was, only to be told that it was something they (the Register Star) were required to do by their insurance company and assured that, if anyone didn’t qualify and then appealed, the paper would never object or voice opposition (thus ensuring that the employee would qualify to receive their unemployment).

After Buckner was terminated, she filed for unemployment insurance.  As usual, the paper contested her unemployment but, this time, her case was rejected.  She then filed an appeal and it was at this point that we all got to see just how truthful Register Star management is in matters of employee relations.

The appeal hearing was conducted over the phone as a conference call.  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was in Chicago, Buckner was home and also on the call were: Register Star Executive Editor Mark Baldwin (seriously), Managing Editor Ann Durocher (I kid you not), HR Director Mona Kidd, the executroid who was present at the verbal exchange and a freakin’ corporate attorney from GateHouse (for those of you keeping score at home – that makes it five to one)!

Several of the Register Star representatives spoke and Paula replied to each, giving her version of events.  It was very matter of fact and the ALJ said that he would render a decision soon and that everyone should expect to hear from him in about a week.

One week later a letter arrived.

From the letter:

Conclusion:  820ILCS 405/602A provides that the term “misconduct” means the deliberate and willful violation of a reasonable rule or policy of the employing unit, governing the individual’s behavior in performance of his work, provided such violation has harmed the employing unit or other employees or has been repeated by the individual despite a warning or other explicit instruction fro the employing unit.

The Claimant made in error in judgement.  She did not set out to harm her Employer.  She did not realize that her actions could result in her discharge.  She had not been warned about this specific issue.  She did not raise her voice.  It was an isolated incident of little severity.

There was no competent evidence which could establish that the Claimant willfully and deliberately violated any company rule or policy of the Employer or that the Claimant’s actions caused harm to the Employer.  The Employer has failed to establish that the Claimant deliberately set out to violate the Employer’s reasonable rules or policies.

Based upon the preponderance of evidence presented at the hearing, and considering THE CREDIBILITY OF THE WITNESSES WHO TESTIFIED (emphasis is mine), it was concluded that the Employer failed to establish that the Claimant was discharged for Misconduct connected with work within the meaning and intent of Section 602A of the Act.

WHILE THE EMPLOYER MAY HAVE HAD ECONOMIC OR PERSONAL REASONS FOR THE CLAIMANT’S DISCHARGE (again, emphasis is mine), these reasons fail to constitute Misconduct as defined by the Act.

Decision: The Local Office determination is SET ASIDE.  Pursuant to 820 ILCS 405/602A, the Claimant is eligible for benefits, as to this issue only, from 1/31/2016″

A complete victory for the good guys!

Next item on the agenda is Paula’s arbitration hearing, where her union will argue for reinstatement and full back pay.  We are currently in the process of selecting an arbitrator.  Stay tuned.