After numerous delays caused by bad weather and other factors, fired Crawford County Highway Department office employee Sherry Jazdzewski finally had the appeal of her termination heard by an impartial hearing officer on Tuesday, March 12 in Prairie du Chien.
The impartial hearing officer, Greg Lunde, who serves as the Vernon County Corporate Counsel, indicated he would probably be rendering a decision on upholding or overturning the Jazdzewski’s termination within the month.
Both sides in the matter, the county, represented by attorney Bonnie Wendorf, and Jazdzewski, assisted by AFSCME union representative Miguel Morga, have until Tuesday, March 26 to submit final summary briefs on the termination hearing for Lunde to consider.
Regardless of Lunde’s decision, either side has the right to appeal his decision to the full county board for review.
Prior to the commencement of the daylong hearing, Lunde indicated that he had found reason to uphold letters of reprimand written to Jazdzewski. She received those written reprimands for allegedly writing an anonymous letter to county board members complaining of a proposed county employee cell phone policy and for allegedly using county equipment on county time to campaign during the Wauzeka Town Board recall election.
At the hearing last Tuesday, the county had to prove it had just cause in terminating Jazdzewski. As might be expected, Morga, the union representative assisting the fired administrative assistant, felt the county did not meet its burden of proof.
Meanwhile, Crawford County Board Chairperson Pete Flesch thought otherwise. Flesch, who had previously upheld the termination, at an informal hearing, was called upon to testify about the decisions he had made.
After the hearing, Flesch declined to speculate about the impartial hearing officer’s impending decision or whether an appeal to the full county board was probable.
Morga indicated Jazdzewski was requesting that she get her job back and be granted back pay. The union representative acknowledged Lunde would have wide latitude in making his decision and could decide Jazdzewski should have the job pack without back pay or a variety of other options.
If Jazdzewski does get her job back, Morga acknowledged in an interview following the hearing, that it would set up an “almost impossible” situation for working in the highway department.
Both Flesch and Morga agreed on one thing and that was the adoption of Act 10 by the Wisconsin Sate Legislature ending collective bargaining rights for government employees had changed things considerably.
“I think this is exactly what we as organized labor thought would happen with collective bargaining rights removed,” Morga said of the Jazdzewski firing and appeal hearing. “You have a termination with no basis and the case is heard by a representative responsible for running another county. It’s a concern. We don’t have a trained impartial WERC arbitrator hearing it anymore.”
Flesch, the county board chairperson, acknowledged that if ACT 10 had not come about the Jazdzewski case would have gone to some sort of arbitration following procedures in the union contract.
“It’s distinctly different,” Flesch said of the post-Act 10 process. “There’s definitely a learning process on our (the county’s) part.”
Flesch said the county had tweaked its personnel policy, which included changing the grievance policy initially created after the collective bargaining agreement ended. The county board chairperson said the policy had been changed two or three times and as “a living document,” he expected there would be more changes going forward.
“One of the things we did as far as discipline is concerned is that we changed what sort of discipline is able to be appealed to an impartial heating officer, which is much more time consuming and more involved than we anticipated,” Flesch explained.
Under the past policy, even a verbal reprimand could be appealed to a hearing before an impartial hearing officer, according to Flesch. Now, Crawford County’s policy allows only for a termination or suspension to be appealed to an impartial hearing officer.
The long process involving Sherry Jazdzewski will reach another milestone in early April when impartial hearing officer Greg Lunde is expected to render a decision upholding or reversing her termination as a highway department employee.