The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has not slowed down NAPE efforts to enforce our contract and to advocate for our member rights. NAPE members have filed 39 grievances alleging management violations of our contract so far in 2020. Below is a summary of cases that are heading to arbitration hearings over the summer.
NAPE members may take up to five days of bereavement leave during a calendar year upon the death of a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, child, grandchild, or step person or spouse of those relatives. Our contract also states that an agency head has the discretion to allow bereavement leave for the death of other persons, and that bereavement leave will not be unreasonably denied. A NAPE member’s nephew passed away while serving our country in the military. The nephew was raised, in part, by our member, and they had a very close relationship. DHHS denied a request to use bereavement leave citing agency policy to never expand the definition of immediate family member for purposes of bereavement leave. NAPE believes the contract requires the agency head to, at a minimum, consider the request, and that in this case the request is more than reasonable. The outcome of this case will affect all DHHS members regarding the agency’s responsibility to consider bereavement leave requests. The case will head to arbitration in mid-June and we expect a decision by the end of summer.
Free Speech Rights
Two NAPE members were recently disciplined for posting comments on their personal Facebook pages, on personal time, and on personal devices. The comments in one case related to a parolee who was recently resentenced to prison. In the other, the comments were critical of the Department of Labor during the coronavirus pandemic. State employees do not have unlimited free speech rights to post anything they want, but they also do not surrender their free speech rights when they become a state employee. In 1968, the US Supreme Court in Pickering v. Board of Education created a test to determine whether public employee speech is protected by the 1st amendment. First, the speech must be a matter of public concern. It cannot be speech of a personal nature or airing personal grievances. Second, the speech cannot create a disruption to the employer or workplace. We believe, in both cases, our members commented on matters of public concern and that the comments were not seen by the general public, nor did they create a disruption in the workplace. These cases will head to arbitration later in the summer.
DHHS Dress Code
NAPE continues to fight for members still affected by the DHHS management decision to require certain employees to wear business casual clothing without any particular need to do so. While this case is important to the affected employees, it is important to all NAPE members because the state has refused to negotiate over a matter which we believe to be a mandatory subject of bargaining. That is one key reason why we have been persistent in this case. Our contract also states that an agency cannot create or enforce an unreasonable policy. We believe requiring one employee to wear business casual clothes and allow the employee in the next cubicle to wear casual clothes when neither interacts with the public is inherently unreasonable. This case was assigned an arbitrator in late May and will proceed to arbitration over the summer. We also have the right to file a prohibited practice charge with the Nebraska CIR regarding the refusal to negotiate. We will make a decision on that action after arbitration.
Seven NAPE members had their employment terminated in 2020. After reviewing the cases, NAPE believes that in each case the agency involved did not have just cause for disciplinary action or that termination was an inappropriate level of disciplinary action for the alleged offense. NAPE will support our members by representing them in the arbitration process. NAPE members have their legal and representation costs paid by the union.
If you find yourself in a situation where you think your rights or our contract are being violated, please contact us right away to discuss your situation. You can reach out to a steward, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call our office at 402-486-3911.