Tuesday, November 13, 2012

About Those Naughty NorCo Emails

Back in September, two NorCo Register of Wills employees were summoned to the Human (or is it Inhumane?) Relations Office on the oxygen-deprived Third Floor, with one hour's notice. In an email, they were told they could be losing their job. And they did. I saw one of them on her way to the firing squad. Were they stealing? Nah. Excessive absenteeism. Nope. It was something far more sinister than mere theft.

Naughty emails.

That's right. Two single mothers were shown the door because, from time to time, they exchanged a few naughty emails with each other and one or two ex-boyfriends. No employees were harassed. Nobody was threatened. But some of those emails were downright vulgar and racy, and we'll have none of that in the People's Republic of Northampton County. Never mind that a cabinet-level official has been carrying on with one of his subordinates for the past few years, with the full knowledge of the County Executive. That's different. We'll have no naughty emails with the hired help, unless it's to or from General Petraeus.

Now you might think these women are independently wealthy, and were just working for pin money. Actually, they both have families to support, and were working second jobs to feed and clothe them. That meant nothing to the County, even though the words "justice" and "mercy" are proudly proclaimed on the County seal.  Union grievances were summarily denied. Pouring salt into the wound, County officials denied claims for unemployment compensation, too.

So for the past two months, with little income from part-time jobs, these women have been trying to make ends meet.

Now we all know naughty emails are a bad thing. Very bad, indeed. Especially for Directors of the CIA. But a firing offense? For courthouse clerks? After letting it go on for two years, without saying a word? This punishment just doesn't fit the crime.

While these ladies are being crucified, some corrections officers at Northampton County jail are charging inmates $100 a pop for tobacco pouches, according to a recent civil rights lawsuit settled by the County for $200,000. Funny how no investigation has gone into that mess.

This type of uneven treatment, more than anything else, is why unions prosper in a workplace like Northampton County Government. Employees will flock to them. Once they get their foot in the door, we're stuck with them. Northampton County is stuck with eleven.

But are they worth it?

You'd think AFSCME, the union representing these workers, would be on a holy tear. After all, it went all the way to the Supreme Court for some Philly union dude engaged in sexual harassment on the job. But not for these single mothers. AFSCME's business agent, himself a former corrections officer, only reluctantly filed a grievance. He dragged his feet about filing a request for arbitration. He's done nothing about unemployment compensation.

Some union.

Enter the Evil Lawyers.

Thankfully, these women had the good sense to hire Easton attorneys Brian and Colin Monahan, a father and son team. After a 4 1/2 hour hearing last week for one of these two woman, unemployment compensation has been granted.

During this lengthy hearing, Brian Monahan established that, contrary to what has been claimed, the County's "electronic resource policy" does permit workers to use the Internet for personal business, so long as it is not abused. It is true that a first-time violator can be terminated.

Director of Court Services Archie D'Isidore decided to conduct an "investigation" into the private business of these two ladies and God knows who else. For over 2 years, he snooped through their private emails. While collecting their emails, he never once put them on notice. In fact, he actually gave them positive performance action reports. No warnings. No restrictions on email.

D'Isisdore, incidentally, is the rocket scientist who recommended one of the administration's pets as the new Register of Wills. She was named over a Deputy with 13 years of experience. That Deputy had the backing of both the courts and the retiring Register of Wills.

D'Isidore explained that he needed those 2 years to show a pattern of Internet abuse. But Referee Gary Wardecki disagreed. "The employer's failure to take any disciplinary action for two years indicates the actions were not considered misconduct."

And they were't. What D'Idsidore really did was bide his time until the retiring Register of Wills, Dot Cole, was gone. Then he lowered the boom, launching a pre-emptive strike against two woman who had noticed some of his own antics. This includes bringing his own ex-secretary in on weekends to get OT to do their work.

Since the County is self-insured, what this ruling means is that County tax revenue will be used to pay two Register of Wills employees to sit on their asses. And when they get re-instated, and you can take that to the bank, it will mean even more money and attorney fees.

Brilliant.

It gets better. The County may have opened itself up to a civil rights action. Courts are increasingly concerned about protecting the privacy rights of public sector employees. In fact, the Commonwealth Court has thus far blocked attempts by reporters to obtain teacher home addresses, even though that information is available in most phone books. Canada's Supreme Court has also recently ruled that employees do have privacy rights, even with workplace computers.

So do I condone naughty emails on the job? Not at all. It's just horrible. I'll bet nobody does it. Those few who do are shot on the spot.  But you don't wait two years and then unload the hammer. Emails to family members and loved ones, incidentally, should really be above scrutiny. Anybody who spends 2 years looking at those, with his door closed, is just downright creepy.

Where has County Executive John Stoffa been during this nonsense?  Obviously, he supports the termination. But to fire single mothers for violations of some prudish code, while acquiescing in a cabinet-level official who is involved with a subordinate, is simply unconscionable. He knows this. But with top-notch cabinet officials like John Conklin and Vic Mazziotti gone, he's getting bad advice from people who know nothing about County government or, more importantly, people.

It would be one thing if his poor judgment affected only him. But this will cost all of us in the end, to say nothing of what it is doing to courthouse morale.

When John Stoffa was first elected, he was heralded as the anti-Reibman. But with an indifference to the County workforce, coupled with a Budget that dips too deeply into the reserve, he's become just like him.

Blogger's Note: I scanned the Unemployment Compensation ruling, redacting the name of the employee.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Haysoos Keerice, Bernie -

Those referees are the epitome of the problem with public employees. Maybe you've been in those appeal hearings, maybe not.

I've been on the employer side where the employee has multiple violations of policy including not reporting for work until it passes the threshold of job abandonment, has been profane and verbally abusive to the supervisor trying to get them to tow the line and, worst of all, has admitted to it all. Then, they cry the blues of having kids and no baby daddy to help them and they're under stress and they really need the job and the big bad employer just doesn't like them. And the sleepwalking referee who does not even pay attention when we put on our case still grants benefits anyway.

What does the troughfeeder referee care? It's not his money anyway. Eventually, we get relief from charges, but the taxpayer gets fooked.

These trashy women who couldn't wait until they get off to get off pissed on the people who provide that all important income they were so careless and quick to jeopardize.

Is your argument really "If we don't let them sext they'll embrace the unions?" Really?

Sounds like the "moderate" R's who say "let 'em kill the babies and cross the border illegally, or they'll never vote for ya"

-Clem

Bernie O'Hare said...

Clem, I've seen it happen with my own eyes. Employees know when they are being treated fairly. They complain whether being treated fairly or unfairly. But if you are unfair, and a public employer, they will run for a union. That's why NC has 11. That is exactly what happened under Reibman.

If D'Isidore was interested in enforcing the email policy, why did he wait two years? That's what killed the County's case. You can't claim something is wrong and then let it continue. And if vulgar emails are a basis for termination, I would think that running around with a subordinate should get you the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Double standards are worse than no standards.

If it can be proven, get that POS out of the trough.

Does Stoffa know about it? If so, why doesn't he step up and, at least, ask for the resignation or terminate him/her? How does one proceed if there is no superior, a la D'Isidore, to pursue it?

-Clem

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Baker said...

PI Sore is a self loathing perverted creep.

sofa is asleep at the wheel

JC will straighten all of this out. managementless heads will roll, unions will bleed, council thugs will tremble. It's going to be a great show

Anonymous said...

They should be re-instated with all back pay and a nice christmas bonus to go along with it. cant wait till the county has to pay for this one ooops I mean the tax payer

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

You keep coming back to this two year investigation. I sincerely doubt this guy spent all of two years looking at email.

Any IT person can blow thru 5 years worth of email in about a day using comon screens and filters.

You're overcomplicating something thats relatively simple. My guess is these two ladies are far from the unfairly persecuted angels you're painting them out to be.

To me it sounds like petty office politics.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Does Stoffa know about it? If so, why doesn't he step up and, at least, ask for the resignation or terminate him/her? How does one proceed if there is no superior, a la D'Isidore, to pursue it?"

Apparently, he supported the termination and has defended it. He also knows about his cabinet level official, and has for years, and acquiesces in that.

In my opinion, the latter situation is much more troubling than the former. But it's easier to fuck with Clerk Techs who have no political allies and a useless union.

Bernie O'Hare said...

". I sincerely doubt this guy spent all of two years looking at email"

Actually, he did. In the UC decision, whch I scanned and uploaded, you will see that in June 2010, D'Isidore started his "investigation." It continued until September 12, 2012. During this time, there were no warnings given, no restrictions placed on email usage and no mention made during annual performance reviews.

In short, D'Isisdore is a snake, not someone anyone can trust. I feel sorry for the employees under hm.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"You really have decided to bail on Stoffa and thow him under the bus."

I am more interested in telling the truth than in pursuing this or that political agenda. In this instance, Stoffa is clearly wrong.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" My guess is these two ladies are far from the unfairly persecuted angels you're painting them out to be."

To be sure, they are no angels. But they are single mothers and are no devils either. They did not deserve termination.

Bernie O'Hare said...

4:57, I decided to delete your comment. You make a serious accusation, but can't sign your name. If you want to smear someone, take responsibility for your words.

Anonymous said...

Justus should have been all over this one. He has way too much area to cover and is based in Bucks or Montgomery county somewhere. AFSCME needs to put a LV rep. in place here to serve Lehigh and Northampton counties exclusively. What a mess..

Anonymous said...

These ladies should not have had to hire their own lawyer as the union should be providing that service at least as far as their being terminated. There should have been an initial hearing before that took place.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am glad they did get a lawyer. They were getting the shaft all around. If the County has any sense, it will bring these workers in and reinstate them with time off. Now is the time to settle this mess.

Anonymous said...

Bernie... one of the best posts you've had in recent days. Super detailed. Thanks for the info so i know who to be a jerk to my next time in there...

Maybe people should create a support fund for them rather than the whitehall drunk driving teacher who put the lives of emergency responders at risk...

Anonymous said...

It's been said time and time again....."John Stoffa ia a nice guy but that's where it ends. He was left a sixty "plus" million dollar slush fund, created by the Reibman administration, which he depleted during his seven years of poor leadership. Stoffa is an extremely poor leader. Nice guy to everyone and anyone unless you work for him or have to do business with him in the real world of government. You finally see this Bernie. It took some time, but you see the light. I guess this is as close as you will ever get to admitting you were wrong about someone but at least you recognize it now. How about the poor slob who takes over this mess after Stoffa leaves.

Anonymous said...

These two employees ahould never be in this position. Where is the Union? They should have fought this.

Anonymous said...

These employees should be reinstated with full pay. They should never have been given such a severe penalty to begin with. There is a process you go through before you terminate someone. Verbal discipline, written discipline, one day off etc., then and only then do you terminate them and it must be a veery severe violation of the rules, like stealing money, etc., etc. Stoffa is a poor excuse for a leader.

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:03, let's be clear. Reibman depleted the reserve. Then he imposed a 70% tax hike over the course of two years, while laying off workers. That's the only reason he left office with a surplus. It was by no means good government.

Stoffa has been a good fiscal steward, but is committing the same errors made by Reibman. He is demonstrating an indifference to the county worker. He is depleting the reserve instead of telling Council a tax hike or cuts are needed.

When Stoffa is right, I will support him 100%. When he is wrong, I will oppose him 100%. His actions in recent months, particularly as they affect personnel, have been contrary to the best interests of the County.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1):10, Under the county's electronic resource policy, one violation is a basis for termination. But in this case, the County let it go on for two years without saying a word. So as the Referee pointed out, the County is in no position to claim there is misconduct.

Anonymous said...

Yo Boinie,
Whatever happened to the employee who was passed over when her boss retired? Wasn't Crazy Archie involved with that decision too? If this guy has two years to read someone's E-Mails he has too much time on his hands. Council should ask for, and demand, a time study of his job duties and responsibilities. What are we paying this guy to screw up the way he is screwwing up?

Anonymous said...

Better yet, lets research his e-mails and see what he is doing. Lets also check and see if he has computer games on his Computer and how much time he spends playing games. I'll bet you it's a bunch.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yes, D'Isidore was involved in the decision to replace the retiring Register of Wills with an administration favorite. I suspect that very few cabinet level officials comply with the County's electronic resource policy.

Anonymous said...

Let's be real, employees all over America use their work computers for personal business. Hard fact of life....The workforce today is made up of a very high percentage of female employees. Businesses are opened from "nine to five" when most peole are at work. The only way you can handle some family or serious situation (talking with your Family Doctor, etc.) is to do it during your work day. All employers give some lee-way in that area. Not Crazy Archie. Again, let's check his computer.

Anonymous said...

WHEN ARE these two ladies going to sue AFSME for Failure to Represent?

Bernie O'Hare said...

If a union, without legitimate reason, fails intentionally to process a grievance, the affected member can file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the union for failure to represent.

Anonymous said...

You are joking right? These ladies got fired because he was scared they were going to tell that his former secretary is coming in on the weekends to do OT work?

Is this what NorCo is relegated to now? Pettiness?

Is it Archie that is having a relationship with one of his subordinates?

Newsflash! Don't do something stupid like bring in your former secretary illegally or have a relationship with your subordinates and these problems won't exist.

Like you said, now the whole county has to pay for his pettiness.

I bet Stoffa never knew all of the logistics of this story.

W~O~W!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Archie is not the cabinet level official who is dating a subordinate.

Anonymous said...

Well then who the hell are you referring to? You brought up the "double-standard." So let's see if you have the guts to name names. Or are you afraid of yet ANOTHER lawsuit, defamation of character or slander, which you WILL lose.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The person I am referring to knows who he is, and so does Stoffa. I am not naming him just to satisfy your anonymous prurient interest. I will name him if and when it becomes relevant to specifically identify him.

Anonymous said...

I know something of the situation with these two employees. The way in which it was handled by Northhampton County Management was amateurish at best and the Unions lack of support and sluggish response is complelety egrious. Both entities should be ashamed of themselves. When I recant what has taken place and the lack of intervention by both Human Resources and the union; people outside of this circus are dumbfounded to find out this kind of incompentence is taking place behind the scences in the County and when (and it is WHEN)these employees win Major Major lawsuits against the the County for Wrongful Termination and the Union for taking thier dues and then failing to represent these individuals properly maybe the Heads of these two mismanagement groups will be exposed to the greater public and taxpayers at large for completely being incompetent