Aug 18 2004
Plum Island Decision Goes To Union
By Gary P. Joyce
The National Labor Review Board’s Administrative Law Judge Eleanor MacDonald has ruled in favor of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30 in its suit against the former contractor at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. The ruling orders a full reinstatement of the fired workers and back pay for 10 members, including whistleblower James McKoy.
“I applaud the NLRB’s decision,” said Senator Hillary Clinton, who along with Congressman Tim Bishop has been involved with Plum Island since inaugurations. A fact-finding mission by both legislator’s staff was the impetus for the firing of McKoy when he related several security concerns to them at a June 2003 meeting. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had since ruled that McKoy was protected by the Federal whistleblower statutes, but the contractor — LB&B, which later changed its name to North Fork Services — fired him. LB&B appealed the OSHA ruling.
LB&B was replaced as contractor January 1. The PIADC, formerly under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, was shifted to the Department of Homeland Security last summer.
When an NLRB administrative law judge hears a case and issues a recommended decision, it can be appealed to the five-member NLRB board in Washington. These judges function much like trial court judges hearing a case without a jury. If no exceptions are filed, the judge’s order becomes the order of the NLRB board.
“I feel very good that the judge threw out the company’s efforts to make me seem like a trouble maker,” said McKoy. “I didn’t think she [MacDonald] was in our corner. She wouldn’t allow us to bring rebuttal witnesses, wouldn’t allow some of the GAO findings in [a security report issued when PIADC was under USDA control], but as it turned out she simply ruled on the facts.”
Both McKoy and Local 30 attorney Marty Glennon of the firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, said a surprising facet of the testimony was that of the former PIADC-DHS director Marc Hollander, who was present at the original meeting between McKoy and the Clinton and Bishop staffers.
“The judge slammed Marc Hollander for inconsistencies in his testimony. I still don’t know why he aligned himself with the company,” said McKoy.
“She [Judge MacDonald] totally discredited Hollander,” said Glennon. “In her ruling she said he was distracted and forgetful and that she did not find him to be an accurate witness.”
McKoy has been through other hearings concerning the firing and all have ruled in his favor. North Fork Services fought and lost, preventing him from claiming unemployment benefits, and in October 2003 OSHA ordered the company to pay him $13,000 in back pay, $75,000 in compensatory damages, plus attorney fees and retraining expenses on the whistleblowing issue. That finding was appealed by North Fork Services (LB&B), as this latest one is expected to be. “There are hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees at stake [for North Fork Services],” said Glennon.
Glennon said another suit is yet to be heard in the Department of Labor under the clean air and federal clean water acts as well as the whistleblowing issue once again.
“I’ve been told the case [before the Department of Labor] is unusual,” said McKoy, “because whistleblowing usually occurs after someone has been fired.”
Neither the DHS nor North Fork Services (LB&B) returned calls before press time.
The appeal process has also raised the hackles of both Clinton and Bishop. Under the contract North Fork Services (LB&B) had with the federal government, they have received reimbursement for all legal expenses throughout the hearing and appeal processes.
“I would be outraged if we waste [another] dime of taxpayer money to appeal it [the NLRB decision],” said Bishop. “We should be spending taxpayer money on improving security and public safety, not on harassing whistleblowers and bogus lawsuits.
“I call on both the USDA and the DHS to stop funding these attacks on workers’ right,” said Clinton. “Workers on Plum Island must have the ability to voice their concerns and act in the best interests of the community and the nation.”
The most recent issue on PIADC security is covered elsewhere in this issue.
According to Glennon, the new contractor, Field Support Services, has been calling back the striking union workers as vacancies become available. The NLRB decision, if upheld, would give the workers a year, plus back pay. Bishop and Clinton have insisted throughout the entire process that the original contractor was in the wrong and have consistently called for the reinstatement of any member of Local 30 who want their job back.
As for McKoy, he said the bottom line was that he did what he felt he had to do. “The guys who work there are working in a safer place, the community has a safer facility near it, and the country has taken steps to prevent bioterrorism. If I don’t see a plugged nickel out of the whole thing, I did the right thing and I’m proud I was in a position to do it,” he said.
Cross Contamination At PIADC
An August 2 letter signed by Senator Hillary Clinton and Congressman Tim Bishop to the director of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, released yesterday, concerns two incidents of “cross-contamination” of foot-and-mouth disease that occurred in the island’s biocontainment area.
“We are particularly alarmed to hear that although only a handful of similar cross-contamination incidents have occurred since the 1970s, two incidents occurred in the last month alone,” notes the letter to Dr. Beth Lautner, the center director. “This raises the troubling possibility that in spite of the reforms that have been enacted thus far, there still remain serious flaws.”
The letter also queries why a detailed assessment of how a proposed $35 million in 2005 funding will be used to increase security, has not been received by either official. “We’re becoming a little perturbed about [not receiving the report],” said a spokesman for Bishop’s office.
The letter requests that the public be informed or updated if any suspicion of contamination spreading beyond the bio-containment area occurs.
Reportedly some cattle not involved in a vaccine trial showed symptoms of an infection.
Cross contamination is when an organism is transferred by any means from one environment to another.
FMD is a highly contagious viral disease that primarily infects cattle, pigs and sheep, although goats, deer, and certain other cloven-hoofed animals can be affected. Although not transmissible to humans, it is devastating to livestock. The most recent resurgence was in September 2003 in Argentina. There have been no cases in the United States since 1929 and the disease has been eliminated in the rest of North America as well as Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Ireland.
Calls to the Department of Homeland Security and the PIADC director were not returned by press time.