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Former city of Mabton employee wins back job

MABTON - The Public Employment Relations Commission has found that the city of Mabton discriminated against former employee Frank Tijerina when he was let go from the city's public works department Dec. 31, 2007.

The Commission ruled that the city laid Tijernia off in reprisal for Tijernia engaging in protected union activities.

Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera disputes this claim, insisting her decision to lay off Tijerina was due to budget cuts and not any retribution.

"When the employees went union he told me it had nothing to do with me," Herrera said. "I told him he had to do what he had to do."

The Commission found that the decision to lay off an employee for budget reasons was decided by the council sometime between Dec. 1 and Dec. 17 of 2007. The notice of layoff to Tijerina from Herrera was dated Dec. 17, 2007.

The Commission wrote in its decision that the reasons for laying off Tijerina given by Herrera were misleading. After first saying the lay-off was for budgetary reasons Herrera then said she laid Tijerina off because of his poor work performance. She pointed out his failure to pass a wastewater certification exam six times.

In the end, the Commission felt that the union had proven its discrimination case.

The hearing examiner wrote in his decision that he found Herrera's articulated reason for laying off Tijernia was pretextual and designed to conceal her true motive.

"The record establishes Mayor Herrera was not concerned with Tijerina's general work performance and didn't select him for layoff because of his general work performance," the hearing examiner wrote.

It was noted that Tijerina was never reprimanded or counseled for poor performance.

The hearing examiner ordered that Tijerina be immediately and fully reinstated to his former position or a substantially equivalent position and make him whole by payment of back pay and benefits.

Furthermore, notices of the decision must be posted in conspicuous places on the employer's premises where notices to all bargaining unit members are usually posted. The notice also must be read at a public city council meeting and permanently appended in the official minutes.

Tijerina, who is currently employed at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Grandview, said he is glad and feels relieved it is finally over.

"I was ready to move, whether I won or lost," he said. "I'm glad I won, though."

Tijerina was an employee with the city of Mabton for 13 years prior to being laid off and says he has no hard feelings.

"I'm just glad it's over," he said. "I'm ready to put this behind me and get back to work. It's been a long year."

Herrera agreed, saying she harbores no ill-feelings either and is ready to get back to work.

The city will have to pay back approximately $45,000 in back pay to Tijernia. With Tijerina returning to work it brings the total number of public works employees back up to four. The 2009 budget was set to have only three employees in the department.

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