Northumberland County judge to decide if former county worker can have job back
SUNBURY - A Northumberland County judge will decide within the next two weeks whether to uphold an arbitrator's ruling to reinstate a fired union county employee or allow another hearing in the drawn-out case in the Court of Common Pleas.
Attorney Roger Wiest II of Sunbury, solicitor for the county prothonotary's office, and Attorney John Bielski, counsel for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, presented brief arguments Wednesday morning before Judge Charles H. Saylor in a case involving Dana Klokis, a former court cost and collection clerk in the prothonotary's office who was fired by Prothonotary Kathleen Strausser for insubordination Jan. 14, 2009.
AFSCME filed a grievance a day after the termination on behalf of Klokis, claiming the firing violated terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and county. The case then proceeded to a hearing Aug. 24, 2010, before a labor arbitrator, who ruled Nov. 12, 2011, that Klokis should be reinstated to her former position with back pay and seniority.
In his ruling, arbitrator Lawrence Spilker said Klokis was denied essential elements of due process because she wasn't granted a meeting or hearing to address the allegations leveled against her. The arbitrator questioned the credibility of witnesses who provided testimony against Klokis and claimed they disliked her.
According to court documents, Spilker said the county's case was deficient in the elements of just cause and sustained the grievance.
Wiest appealed Spilker's ruling and Saylor entered an order vacating the arbitrator's award June 11, 2012. The union then appealed the judge's order to Commonwealth Court, which reversed Saylor's order and remanded the case back to the judge. Saylor was ordered to review the case again within the parameters set forth by Commonwealth Court.
Wiest argued that Saylor should conduct a hearing in the case, while Bielski said a hearing isn't necessary because the arbitrator's ruling should be final.
No testimony was presented Wednesday.
After the legal proceeding, Bielski, who is with the law firm of Willig, Williams & Davidson, Philadelphia, said, "The arbitrator ruled that there was a lack of evidence to fire my client and there is no need for another hearing. If a hearing was held, it would undermine the entire arbitration process. We were here today to argue the merits of the arbitrator's award."
Wiest reserved comment after the arguments were presented.
Job has moved
Another complication in the case is that Klokis' former position in the prothonotary's office no longer exists because court costs are now collected by the adult probation department. Klokis, who was not in attendance at the legal proceeding, is currently employed, but not with the county.
AFSCME staff representative Von Treas and Corey Lockard, director of AFSCME District Council 86, also were present at the proceeding.