3/31/08

SEIU lawsuit may shut Head Start center

A labor union filed a lawsuit against the St. Martin Iberia Lafayette (LA) Community Action Agency for refusing to reinstate a teacher after an arbitrator found she was fired improperly. Tina Becnel, a former Early Childhood Development teacher at SMILE’s New Iberia Head Start Center, was fired in September 2006 after she was accused of hitting a 4-year-old student.

An arbitrator later ordered Becnel be reinstated, finding no credible evidence the incident occurred.

According to the lawsuit, SMILE reinstated Becnel on Dec. 7, 2007, but terminated her again just four days later when the Louisiana Department of Social Services threatened to revoke the facility’s license based on the original abuse allegation.

Service Employees International Union Local 21LA, which represents SMILE employees and other public workers in Louisiana, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court on Becnel’s behalf.

The lawsuit states SMILE’s failure to reinstate Becnel violates the federal Labor Management Relations Act.

It requests Becnel be reinstated and receive lost wages and benefits since the date of her initial firing.

“The arbitrator ruled that the teacher should be made whole,” said Local 21LA President Rick Pettitt.

“(SMILE) has refused to abide by that, which has left us no choice but to file a lawsuit in federal court.”

Alvin Wiltz, SMILE’s executive director, did not return calls Friday seeking comment.

(iberianet.com)

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