Updated at 5 p.m. Jan. 22.
The Illinois Labor Relations Board has ordered the Plainfield Park District to offer full reinstatement to an employee who was allegedly disciplined, then terminated for reportedly speaking to a coworker about unionizing.
Under the Jan. 9 ruling, the district must also compensate former park maintenance staffer Joel Schumaker for wages missed after he was fired.
Executive Director Garrett Peck and park district spokesman Doug Booth did not immediately respond to inquiries from Patch on Wednesday. Board president Peter Hurtado said he was aware of Schumaker's complaint, but said he had no details on the issue.
"It's been [handled] by our labor attorney, and that's all I know at this time," Hurtado said.
Board commissioner Larry Newton, on the other hand, expressed outrage that he was not told about the ruling.
"I am completely flabbergasted that none of the details of that order have been communicated to board members up to this point," Newton said in an email to Patch. "This is completely unacceptable."
Newton also blasted Peck.
"Do the details surprise anyone?," he said. "Are they not consistent with what we've heard about the Executive Director's modus operandi?"
In its decision, the labor board found that by failing to file a response, the park district admitted to the allegations in an Aug. 29, 2013 complaint filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME] Council 31.
The labor board found that on Aug. 15, Peck and newly promoted Assistant Executive Director Gene Coldwater interrogated Schumaker and coworker John Nickl regarding their involvement with the union. The questioning came after park district staffers began looking into unionizing.
On Aug. 23, Peck disciplined Schumaker for allegedly soliciting a fellow employee to become a member of the union, the labor board said.
Less than a month later, Schumaker was re-assigned to new duties, according to the ruling. On Nov. 1, he was fired.
The ruling found that by its acts described above, "the respondent has discriminated against a public employee in order to discourage membership in or support for [AFSCME]," in violation of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act. Click here to read the entire ruling.
The labor board has ordered the park district to rescind Peck's decision to discipline and re-assign Schumaker, and to offer Schumaker immediate reinstatement to his former position. The ruling goes on to order the park district to "make [Schumaker] whole in accordance with this decision, for any loss of earnings he may have suffered because of his termination, including back pay plus interest at a rate of 7 percent per annum."
For 60 days, the park district must keep a notice posted letting employees know about the violations and outlining their rights, including:
- To engage in self-organization
- To form, join or assist unions
- To bargain collectively through a representative of your own choosing
- To act together with other employees to bargain collectively or for other mutual aid protection
- To refrain from these activities
The notice also contains a pledge from the park district to cease and desist from retaliating and discriminating against Schumaker and Nickl, or any other employees, for engaging in union activity.
In August, the park board voted to set aside $70,000 for legal expenses, up from $20,000 the year before, to cover potential legal costs related to unionization.
At the time, Peck denied a rumor that employees were threatened or asked not to sign their union cards.
"That's not true at all," he said. "We had several employees ask us how to redact their signatures" because they felt they had been misled, Peck added, "but no one's been asked not to sign it.
"... "If [unionizing] is what the employees really want," Peck said, "we're going to do it."
Late reply seals rulingAccording to the Jan. 9 ruling, the allegations were investigated by the labor board and a complaint for hearing was issued to the park district on Nov. 26, 2013. Park officials had 15 days to respond, but failed to meet the Dec. 17 deadline.
Instead, six days after the deadline, the park district filed a motion seeking permission to file a late answer. According to the document, an attorney for the park district explained the tardy reply by saying the complaint did not specify whether the deadline was 15 business days, or 15 calendar days.
The park district's request for more time was denied.
'Disappointed'Like Newton, commissioner Mary Kay Ludemann said park officials did not tell her about the ruling.
"I knew there was an issue," she said. "I just found out about that exact document last night," Ludemann added, saying she was notified by a resident who found the document while researching the park district online.
"As a board member, it's extremely disappointing that this has been since Jan. 9 and I found out from a resident on Jan. 21," she said. "That's what floors me."
Ludemann was also disappointed by the alleged actions of park district administrators.
"It's disappointing that Gene and Garrett participated in that type of conduct," she said. "It's disappointing that our attorney didn't respond in time. I'm just disappointed in the whole matter."
Special board meeting rescheduledA special board meeting to discuss personnel and litigation is now scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in the lower level at the Heritage Professional Center, 24023 W. Lockport St.
The meeting was originally set for Wednesday, but had been cancelled.