Local 1000 Worker Stands Up to False Workplace Charges
Aruna Abeygoonesekera, a 30-year union member, and active job steward, was working at the California Dept. of Public Health (CDPH), in Richmond, CA, when he called his union representative with an urgent issue. A dispute in his workplace over-scheduling continued to escalate to the point where he was facing bullying and harassment in his workplace.
“At first, I was getting yelled at for no reason and eventually was being obstructed in trying to get to my desk,” said Aruna. “At some point, I was reported to the administration by the person harassing me. After I explained what had happened and he heard both sides of the story, he seemed to be satisfied and had no further questions for me.”
While this seemed to be the end of the issue, the problem only continued to escalate. Thinking the problem was behind him, he continued with his plans to take leave to care for his sister across the world in Sri Lanka. While he was on leave, he received a disturbing piece of news from management.
“While I was there, I received an official email from management alleging that I was responsible for workplace violence and abusive language,” said Aruna. “I hadn’t done anything, and while I’m out of the country, I was at a real disadvantage with the 12-and-a-half-hour time difference. I reached out to the Union and was represented very quickly.”
His representative took immediate action and constructed a plan to work around the time difference and prepare him for an interview over this spurious issue. The stress of the investigation, coupled with caring for his sister, was a lot for Aruna.
“My representative, Tom Wright, filed a complaint against the investigator for improper conduct,” said Aruna. “I had told the investigator that I’m out of the country, I’m caring for my sister, and I need time to address this issue properly. He said he couldn’t wait for that, and he did not care about the time zone factor. It was wrong for him to do that, and Tom took that up with him and filed to address the problem.”
After a forceful conversation with investigators at the interview, the State dropped the investigation, and no charges of any kind are forthcoming. Aruna’s representative also ended up filing a complaint against the investigator for improper conduct.
“The investigator never gave me a chance to address this issue,” said Aruna. “I’m on paid leave, and I needed time to care for my family. I can’t get up at 3:00 a.m. in the morning in Sri Lanka when he wanted me to, since that would be 3:30 p.m. in California. He wants me to answer questions and deal with this situation at 3:00 a.m. in the morning.”
While Aruna was surprised by the circumstances the investigators had put him in, he ultimately was able to stand up for himself by using the resources available to him.
“It was an arrogant and disrespectful way to use that authority against a worker who hasn’t done anything wrong,” he said. “But we got involved, we addressed the issue, and we won.”