Here at the Navajo Nation Labor Commission hearing on a Navajo Nation Office of Navajo Labor Relations complaint filed by five former Office of the Controller employees, who are allegeding that Controller Mark Grant illegally laid them off in September 2013.
The hearing started at 9 a.m. this morning but was delayed until noon after a request by Grant’s attorney, Navajo Department of Justice attorney Henry Howe, for a three hour delay so he could finish a legal brief that was due before the Navajo Nation Crownpoint, N.M., District Court.
Grant is the fist witness. The Commission is excusing other witnesses for Grant, who are Laura Johnson Nez, Harry Tso, Rena Arviso.
The attorney for the five former senior accountants is David Jordan of Gallup, NM, who is in private practice. The five former employees Lavon Smiley, Valentina Sallis, Marietta Roan, Lucinda Davis, Cynthis Shirley Descheny.
OPENING STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY HENRY HOWE:
Today’s case as consolidated but also each case is different from cases before Labor Commission which deals with adverse actions, disciplinary actions for deficiences and problems. But that is not what happened with five individuals. in 2012, the Navajo President ordered all divisions undergo budget cuts and present budgets with huge decreases. and many divisions addressed by laying off some of the personnel working for divisions. there is a case, noted by Commission, Milligan versus Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, that there must be just cause for adverse personnel actions. however the court in Milligan held and ruling, just cause for layoffs is not based on adverse actions, but must be just cause.
Commission also knows that tribal personnel polices, page 60, provides structure for division on how to do layoffs deemed necessary. here today how Office of Controller learned about budget reductions and how they determined that only way to meet budget reductions was to layoff certain personnel and process went thru on which employees layoff. Hear from Grant, Johnson-Nez, Haskie. I will ask after Commission hears testimony that tribal personnel policies followed with glitch or two regarding strict compliance. Office of Controller did darn good job of deciding who to layoff.
and I wanted to make statement so Commission keeps in mind that while five sit here and sincerely believe that they were unfairly laid off that someone would have had to be laid off.
Ask Commission to find that process reasonable, rationale and in compliance with personnel policies, even if not what five individuals would have come up with. matter of who would not have job in October when new budget began.
DAVID JORDAN, PRIVATE ATTORNEY FOR FIVE FORMER EMPLOYEES
tHE LAYOFFS of my clients was a Flat out violated polices and not glitches. We understand budget cuts. the issue is whether they followed Navajo Nation policies or Navajo Preference In Employment Act. there are many ways that layoffs not properly done.
one problem blatantly obvious, they were required to apply Veteran Preference. He served his country with dignity and pride. the tribal personnel told Grant, look at veteran preference and if possible retain the veteran. they didn’t even look at veteran status even though in policy.
another one and easy one, they did not layoff non-Navajos. all my clients are Navajos with census numbers. there were non Navajos retained. maybe they can explain but we accept none. it is a violation of navajo preference in employment act.
the problems of that nature are numerous. Grant knew for months about budget cuts but my clients notified at last second of layoffs.
the way layoff conducted makes no logical sense. we intend with testimony that it was done discriminatory fashion, unfairly targeted people who litgitimately used medical leave and resulted in bad layoffs of several employees.
my clients understand budget cuts but that does not make noncitizens and that their rights be protected. it is not our custom to talk remedies but there is something that Commission find odd and needs to be addressed. it will become aparent that there were only 2 or 3 positions open and I have five clients so how propose remedies. we have addressed among our clients and Commission cannot force Council to create positions.
they have to follow policy. this layoff was opportunity for Mark Grant to layoff people he didn’t want.
Janice Haskie, Laura Johnson Nez, Rena Arviso, Harry Tso,