- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The federal government’s broadcasting arm for years rejected union charges that officials targeted employees who discussed waste and abuse with congressional investigators, insisting a 2009 “reduction in force” was completely legal.

But in a notice recently posted in the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) offices in Florida and Washington, D.C., officials acknowledged that they “failed” to satisfy bargaining obligations in connection with the layoffs at the BBG’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

The two-paragraph posting signals an end to years of bitter legal battles that could wind up costing the BBG millions of dollars in back pay.

More than four years ago, employees in the BBG’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting challenged their layoffs, winning an arbitrator’s ruling in 2011.

The BBG fought the ruling only to suffer another legal setback before the Federal Labor Relations Authority in 2012.

A BBG spokeswoman Wednesday said the agency decided to move forward with the arbitrator’s ruling in 2009 but said the layoffs were “conducted in accordance with all applicable rules and regulations.”

Spokeswoman Letitia King also said the final amount of back pay for a dozen employees remains unresolved.

“The calculations are taking place now,” she said in an email.

But, she added, neither the BBG nor the Office of Cuba Broadcasting has the money to retain the positions, and so they’ll still likely be cut as “budget limitations necessitate.”

“Our goal in resolving this case is to minimize any further disruption and expense for the agency,” she said.

Timothy Shambles, president of the AFGE Local 1812, has estimated the payout and legal costs could be around $10 million. Whatever the final figure, he said, it didn’t have to be so much.

“They shouldn’t have pursued it any further,” he said. “I don’t know why they acted in that manner.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled against the BBG after officials appealed the labor board decision. Judges said the early stages of the case had been dominated by charges of “cronyism, waste and mismanagement.”

The BBG’s Cuba broadcasting unit produces radio and television for Cubans from “breaking news to in-depth pro-democracy documentaries to the Major League Baseball playoffs,” judges noted.

The layoffs came after Congress cut the BBG’s Cuba broadcasting budget by $4.2 million.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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