Some of you may recall the strange story of Bryan Sky-Eagle, a Houston firefighter who resigned in September, 2014 as union president just 11-months into his three-year term. At the time Sky-Eagle says he quit because of threats of physical violence against him by some Houston firefighters.
It’s clear many firefighters were unhappy with Sky-Eagle after he negotiated a new contract with the city. It was rejected by 93% of the firefighters. It also didn’t help that Sky-Eagle filed a lawsuit on behalf of Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341 against the IAFF.
Because of Sky-Eagle’s allegations of physical threats from firefighters, the Office of Inspector General launched an investigation. It resulted in at least four firefighters being suspended. The charges were related to the department’s code of conduct, violations of Houston’s social media policy and, for one firefighter, a violation of the policy to prevent violence in the workplace.
Now, Michael Barajas of Houston Press reports that so far three of those suspensions have been overturned in arbitration, with the arbitrator seeing the threats as little more than frustrated Facebook banter. Much of it had to do with comments on a closed Facebook group about ways the firefighters might get back a union provided pick-up truck that Sky-Eagle kept after leaving office. In addition, the arbitrator questions whether the social media policy is an unconstitutional restriction of free speech (Houston officials stand by the policy).
Here are some excerpts from the article by Barajas. I suggest you read it in its entirety:
Firefighter Michael Niemann, whose ten-day suspension was overturned last week, started off the comments thread by saying “The truck needs to be reported stolen,” adding that if he had “the extra set of keys, I’ll go get it myself.”
Firefighter Ryan Horton wrote “Put a boot on it.” Jaron Black, another firefighter, responded, “I say we get a large group together, with a spare key, and go get it.” The comment earned Black a five-day suspension, which an arbitrator overturned last month.
(This is how Sky-Eagle interpreted Black’s comment, according to what little of his testimony is quoted in the arbitration reports: “Get a mob together and go get the truck. … There was a mob coming. I felt my safety threatened. I didn’t know if there was a spare key. Others were involved.”)