Four members of Local 1085 who were fired last year have been reinstated to their jobs at the Shady Lane Home by an arbitrator. President Rich Dann said the decision was a rebuff to managers at the Gloucester County Improvement Authority who are quick to fire workers with no regard to fairness. Back pay was ordered in all four cases.
The decision was issued on October 15 by arbitrator Susan Osborn, who conducted two days of hearings this past summer. The union's case was presented by attorney Justin Schwam, working closely with President Dann.
The matter arose in November 2013, when two Practical Nurses and two Nurse Aides on the night shift were summarily fired on charges that they failed to cover an elderly dementia patient after he became combative and stripped off most of his clothes during the night. The arbitrator acknowledged that the patient's combativeness made it difficult for the staff to cover him up, although greater efforts should have been made. However, the arbitrator found that the Improvement Authority wrongly put all the blame on the employees, when management itself contributed to the problem by failing to provide sufficient staff and by implementing a defective care plan. Finally, the arbitrator faulted management for failing to use progressive discipline and failing to consider the employees' explanations.
In light of the circumstances, the arbitrator ruled that two of the employees should have short suspensions—which have already been served—while the other two should have no discipline at all. All four will be entitled to back pay and benefits.
Although acknowledging that it had been a long, hard battle, Dann said the case showed that Local 1085 was willing and able to defend employees from arbitrary and unreasonable discipline.