Borough Faces More Unfair Labor Claims
MOUNT POCONO – Teamsters Local 773 has filed new labor charges against Mount Pocono Borough. The complaint alleges that illegal retaliation for union organizing activities was behind the sudden firing of zoning officer Dennis Noonan in March, and harassment of his wife, the long-time Borough Secretary/ Treasurer, Lori Noonan.
At the March 2 council meeting, less than two months after unanimously reappointing him to the position, Borough Council terminated Noonan without notice. At the meeting, Michael Penn, the Borough’s interim mayor (elected in November to fill out the final two years of Mayor Frederick T. Courtright’s term) recommended council fire Noonan effective immediately and without notice. The mayor and council president Claudette Williams, who also pushed for the move, refused to give reasons – even after Noonan waived any confidentiality or privacy. The interim mayor only said something about “conflict of interest”, refusing to tell Noonan the basis for that claim. The surprise motion was not on the published agenda.
The union complaint alleges that, early this year, the Teamsters engaged in an organizing campaign to represent borough employees. According to the allegations, on March 24, 2020, the borough received a notice from Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) that the union was seeking a representation election.
According to the complaint, the borough was aware that Dennis and Lori were supportive of the union organizing campaign, attended organizing meetings, and spoke in favor of the organizing drive. One week after receiving the notice from the PLRB, council suddenly fired Dennis without giving any reasons.
The union alleges that council and the mayor also issued unfounded reprimands to Lori and “substantially increased (her) workload in comparison to that experienced by her in her thirty (30) years of employment with the (borough).” The union alleges that the borough took adverse action against Dennis and Lori in retaliation for their involvement in the employee union organization efforts.
Williams said that the borough would refuse to comment on the charges.
Matt Weidman, Business Agent for the union, told The Boro* that, based on the “testimony and evidence of multiple Borough employees, it is the position of the union that the Borough has violated multiple labor laws.”
The complaint alleges several violations of the Pennsylvania Public Employee Relations Act (PERA), enacted in 1970, which extended collective bargaining rights and obligations to most public employees. Under PERA, if the PLRB finds that the borough engaged in illegal retaliation or other unfair labor practices, it can take a number of remedial measures, including issuing a cease and desist order, directing the borough to reinstate Dennis, and grant back pay, among other things.
According to the union’s petition seeking an election, which the borough received on March 24, the Teamsters local seeks to represent all “road maintenance, administrative assistant, and zoning/code enforcement officer employees of Mount Pocono Borough”. Under applicable laws, only 30% of a proposed bargaining unit need to sign union cards to be entitled to an election. Weidman said that “a super-majority” of Borough employees signed union cards on or before February 5. Multiple other sources have confirmed to The Boro* that every employee in the union’s proposed collective bargaining unit at the time signed a card.
The Boro* has learned that Mount Pocono employees initiated contact with Local 773, which also represents employees on Coolbaugh, Pocono, and Tobyhanna Townships, as well as the Pocono Township police. Borough employees say they sought union representation because, in their view, council has failed to give them even cost of living increases for several years, is in the process of eliminating, reducing, or changing employment benefits, and to protect their jobs from being lost due to changes in elected officials, or their attitudes.
A hearing on the petition was originally scheduled for late April, but was subsequently postponed indefinitely, due to the coronavirus shutdown. No new date has been set. The Borough has already paid thousands of dollars in legal fees to the Pittsburgh lawyer the interim mayor suggested council hire to defend them against the union’s charges. Those legal fees do not include any work on this latest set of charges against the borough.
After instructing the council to fire Noonan, the interim mayor had them appoint Jean Simchak to the position. The legality of that appointment has been questioned as Simchak was at the time on the Zoning Hearing Board and legally disqualified to act as a zoning officer. Although council approved her hire on a part-time basis only, it appears that she worked full time. Earlier this month, the council replaced Simchak with two part-time individuals, Alexis Wilkinson, a basketball coach for the Pocono Mountain School District, and Juan Rosario, a security guard for Sanofi.
The public learned of the new labor complaint when Williams announced at the July council meeting that “Dennis and Lori Noonan” had filed a complaint against the Borough. The complaint was actually filed by the union, not the Noonans.