The Merit Systems Protection Board has ruled that Baker Armstrong Smith, director of labor relations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, improperly dismissed two employes because of their union backgrounds.
In separate cases, MSPB hearing officers ordered the employes reinstated, saying that they were fired basically because of what one ruling called Smith's "anti-union animus."
Meanwhile, a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) has launched an investigation into reports that Smith sharply curbed HUD's enforcement actions involving federal wage laws on government construction projects. The House Education and Labor subcommittee on labor standards last week asked Smith for copies of his notes and records "relating to the enforcement of federal wage laws during your tenure at HUD."
The Washington Post recently reported that in three-quarters of such cases referred to his office, Smith overruled recommendations by local HUD officials that contractors be fined for violating the wage laws. Most of the cases involved charges that contractors had failed to pay workers overtime or the minimum wage or had submitted false payroll records.
Before joining HUD in 1981, Smith was executive director of the Center for National Labor Policy, an organization that describes itself as providing "free legal aid to the victims of union power." Union officials have complained that Smith has fired, transferred or refused to promote a number of HUD employes with union backgrounds.
A HUD spokesman said that the general counsel's office has not decided whether to appeal the two merit board rulings.
In one case, the hearing officer said that Smith's testimony "indicated no rational basis" for his decision to abolish the job of Martin T. Durkin, a GS-14 manpower specialist. The ruling said that Smith could not describe what Durkin did or how the dismissal was related to HUD budget cuts.
"The preponderance of the evidence indicates that Durkin's union background and his abrasive attitude toward Mr. Smith served as the basis for the decision to abolish his position," the ruling said.
Saying there was no evidence that Durkin's performance was less than satisfactory, the hearing officer said it was "remarkable" that Smith has replaced his entire personal staff, except for a deputy and a secretary, neither of whom have union backgrounds.
The second case involves Clarence Logan, a GS-15 labor specialist, former acting director of the office and one-time member of the Laborers' International Union.
The ruling said that Logan "has adequately demonstrated that there was a causal connection between his union ties and Mr. Smith's anti-union animus."
While Logan had failed to meet certain deadlines set by Smith, the ruling said, "substantial roadblocks" were placed in his way, including a lack of secretarial help. Smith once had Logan sent out of town so he could not attend a Baltimore housing ceremony and later detailed Logan to Alaska, according to the ruling.
When Smith was asked about the Center for National Labor Policy, according to the ruling, he "refused to characterize it as unsympathetic to the union cause," although a center publication he wrote "is replete with references to 'union violence,' 'union coercion' and 'ruthless labor union bosses'." The hearing officer said Smith's testimony was "less than candid" and in some instances "evasive" and "fraught with inconsistencies."