NMG demands reinstatement of staffers fired over mistake

The News Media Guild told The Associated Press last week to reinstate Norm Gomlak and Bob Lewis or the Guild will take legal action. The two employees were fired without notice or dismissal pay because of their role in the reporting error involving a story about the Virginia governor’s race.

Lewis, a 28-year veteran who worked in the Richmond bureau, wrote the story and Gomlak of Atlanta, who has three years of service, edited it. Dena Potter, the Virginia news editor was also terminated, but the union does not represent managers so it is unable to assist her.

The company will respond to the union demand that the two be reinstated by Monday, Nov. 18.

AP wrote that the incident provided it with “just cause” to fire the employees and added it also amounted to “gross misconduct,” which allows it to avoid paying the dismissal and notice payments.

AP said the employees were guilty of violating several parts of the Ethics Policy. It said the employees failed to give Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe the adequate time to respond to the allegation in the story. The company said the staffers engaged in “guesswork backed up with no reporting.”

The company said the violations of AP’s standards and practices are egregious violations that make the case insurmountable.

The union said the penalty is too severe for the infractions involved and differs from how the company has handled such cases in the past. It said their mistake falls far short of matching the legal definition of “gross misconduct,” which the company is relying on to both refuse dismissal pay and fire the staffers.

The Guild asked the company if it believes the errors were intentional or if there was obstinate indifference that caused the error, which are the definition of “gross misconduct.” AP was unable to respond and said it would consider the question.

The Guild also challenged parts of the letters that put Gomlak and Lewis on suspension and told them that they could discuss the case only with “appropriate” Guild officials. When the Guild said the company couldn’t gag the staffers, the company replied: “We can do whatever we want.”

The union said the gag rule violates the National Labor Relations Act and must be rescinded.

The union is able to submit unresolved grievances to arbitration where an independent umpire issues a final and binding decision on whether contractual rights were violated.