Since Gilbert Baca became president of Local 3999, the union that represents the majority of employees in Santa Fe city government, he’s been a constant thorn in the side of Mayor Alan Webber and his administration.

He’s been aggressive and outspoken in his advocacy, filing grievances on behalf of employees and reports to federal agencies alleging unsafe working conditions, and winning a $700,000 settlement less than a month ago over a contentious furlough plan the union claimed was improperly executed.

Baca, who took over as union president in December 2020, on Monday claimed the administration got even and fired him over allegations of timecard fraud, which he vehemently denied and said a witness can refute.

“This is just retaliation from being the union president,” Baca said in an interview. “I called my personal attorney this morning so we could get a lawsuit going.”

City spokesman Dave Herndon wrote in an email the city doesn’t comment on specific human resources, or personnel, cases. But generally speaking, he wrote, any discipline that’s issued is based on an objective application of policies.

“Any discipline, if issued, is not related to union activities,” Herndon wrote. “Elected persons, such as the Mayor, are not involved in disciplinary matters for classified employees.”

Gil Martinez, vice president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, wrote in a statement the union was “shocked, saddened and disappointed” by the Webber administration’s decision to fire Baca.

“Mr. Baca was aggressive and vigilant in his efforts to protect all City of Santa Fe employees from unsafe working conditions, harassment and retaliation in the workplace,” Martinez wrote. “Beginning with his efforts to force the City of Santa Fe to examine its workplace safety programs following the workplace death of Tobin ‘Toby’ Williams in 2019 through its efforts to force the Webber administration to compensate union employees for Webber’s illegal furlough in 2020, which resulted in an order by the Public Employee Labor Relations Board in favor of the union employees, Mr. Baca worked tirelessly to protect employees from the mismanagement of Mayor Webber and his senior managers.”

Martinez claims Baca was “wrongly terminated.”

“It was common knowledge throughout the City that Mr. Baca was fearless and stood up to the illegal and unethical tactics of the Webber administration,” Martinez wrote. “This frustrated senior City Managers to the point that they hired a Private Investigator to shadow Mr. Baca for months, until they could find or fabricate violations of City policy, no matter how slight.”

Baca said he has seven days to appeal the termination, which he plans to do. He said the accusation he committed timecard fraud is false, and that he has a witness to corroborate what actually happened.

On Sept. 1, he said he had marked on his timecard he was on union business from 8 a.m. to noon and using sick leave from noon to 3 p.m. Realizing he had to leave work an hour earlier that day because he was driving to Pecos, Baca said he tried to change his time sheet but couldn’t.

“We have an open computer where we log in and log out,” he said, adding the computer is old and wouldn’t let him make the changes.

Baca said he then informed his supervisor, Lenny Montoya, and asked him to make the adjustment.

“He said, ‘OK,’ ” Baca recalled. “I had a witness that was standing right next to me.”

Montoya did not return a message seeking comment. Ronald Jimenez, the co-worker Baca said had witnessed the interaction, also did not return a message seeking comment.

Baca said he left work that day thinking Montoya would make the change.

Shannon Jones, the city’s public utilities director, saw him driving to the landfill to pick up a load of gravel in his personal dump truck after 11 a.m., Baca said. “I guess he called my bosses and said, ‘What’s Gilbert doing?’ Lenny Montoya told me that he told [Jones] it was a missed punch [on the timecard], but I don’t know how it went from a missed punch to termination.”

Around Sept. 13, Baca was notified he was being accused of an hour’s worth of timecard fraud, he said. The next day, he was placed on administrative leave.

At a predetermination meeting at the end of August, Baca said he and the union’s attorney gave Jones and Human Resources Director Bernadette Salazar his side of the story. Jimenez did not want to testify at the hearing but met with the union attorney at their labor hall, he said.

“He heard me saying that I had punched in the wrong time and if they could change it because I was going to leave at 11 instead of 12,” he said. “He heard exactly what I told the supervisor.”

Baca said he figured the issue had been cleared up.

“We thought everything was good, and this morning they told me they were going for termination,” he said, adding he has kept a “clean record” during his 20 years of work with the city.

Baca said the city paid a private investigator to follow him for a month last year.

“I was accused of 100 hours of timecard fraud then, and they didn’t find nothing,” he said. “Now they come after an hour where I have a witness who … heard me tell my supervisor that I couldn’t change my timecard, and my supervisor said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ ”

Baca said he looks forward to clearing his name.

The allegations of timecard fraud are “bitter to swallow when you know it’s not the truth,” he said. “But the Lord says that the truth will set you free, and I’m going to prove my innocence. Anything I do, I’m going to prove my innocence because I know this has been a bunch of retaliation.”

Martinez wrote that Baca’s termination is a direct violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against any worker because of union activity or from punishing a worker for filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

“These actions by the Webber administration are in keeping with national trends regarding the range of legal and illegal tactics used by employers to subvert unions and employee rights,” he wrote.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter

@danieljchacon.

(23) comments

Tammy Tapia

While everyone is bashing the Mayer, have you ever thought that ,the Mayer does not get involved with this stuff? Gilbert Baca is one of those, everyone is against me!! Really, the mayer is going to zero in on him and hire someone to follow him!! Yea right, someone do an audit and see where that leads you. Gilbert Baca, has been doing this for years and now he gets cought with his hand in the cookie jar and he claims this. Yea, ok, make me laugh!!! How does he know about the working conditions? He doesn't even go to the work sites, he drives to them and waves. He doesn't know what kind of conditions the employees work in. As for him sticking up and supporting the employees, he has tried getting some of them fired because, he hears others complaining. He has complained himself but wouldn't write it down or talk with the higher ups about it either. I really do not feel any remorse for him. I'm sure someone else wrote everything down for him as to what to say. Just me feelings on this show.

Chris Mechels

Webber lies so much that we have to assume that he's lying on this one.... I sometimes think that Alan doesn't even know when he's lying anymore... a bit like Trump, but shorter. And, it seems his memory is "shot" as he can't remember Bill Taylor and Mort Zuckerman, the "brains" behind Fast Company, where Alan was the PR guy. And, he can't remember Elizabeth Dunham, the 13 year old "done" by his buddy Neil Goldschmidt while Alan was doing Neil's PR. He needs memory therapy.

John Crenshaw

Whoa! Terminating a gadfly union leader for a disputed one-hour discrepancy on a time card? There has to be more to this story, and we all need to hear it. For starters, I trust that the New Mexican has already begun investigating whether the private investigator bit is true, and if so, who got the contract and for how much money.

Claudia Chavez

I’d like to know more about the PI. How often does the City do this? How much $$ is spent investigating City employees? How often are employees fired as a result of a PI?

Stefanie Beninato

Well how do you all like that our taxpayer dollars will go to city employees if they "volunteer" in a public school for up to 4 hours/week? IOW they will be "paid volunteers" (oxymoron) because they will receive their city salary. We can't even get basic city services---I wonder where V-C voted on that. I think it was the Mayor's idea.

I think also the point is that getting gravel is not appropriate for sick leave...what about vacation/personal days? Also who pays this employee when on union duty? This article makes me curious. I think the city should be looking at its managers. I understand from higher ups that a pool manager was MIA during several workdays even before COVID. Maybe the city should be checking into that employee.--they know who it is. If it is a wide spead practice then maybe occasionally spot checking employees who go from one location to another. CHUCKLE--union employee blames "old" computer--isn't that what Mary McCoy, city finance director, did too? only for new technology

david cartwright

Everyone knows that the benefits of being a union boss are that you don't have to actually work on the job.

Mark Ortiz

If you want Webber out, do not list him as ANY of your choices when voting in ranked choice voting in the upcoming election. LEAVE WEBBER OFF YOUR BALLOT.

Joseph Hempfling

AS A PAST UNION STEWART, I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO "THE CORRECTIVE ACTION PLAN" WHEREBY ISSUES LIKE THIS COULD BE ADDRESSED AND CORRECTED. NOT BY TERMINATION WHICH IS OVERKILL.

Spencer Ralston

So Mr. Baca signed our for sick leave so he could go pick up gravel in his private dump truck? That sure sounds legitimate. Huh?

Dennis Romero

Good morning Spencer,

The article states: "On Sept. 1, he said he had marked on his timecard he was on union business from 8 a.m. to noon and using sick leave from noon to 3 p.m. Realizing he had to leave work an hour earlier that day because he was driving to Pecos, Baca said he tried to change his time sheet but couldn’t.'

If the time in question is before noon, whatever he was doing, as long as his supervisor approved him leaving really isn't relevant. His time card stated he was on sick leave from noon to 3PM.

Please realize that sick leave can be used for a doctor's appointment for the employee, as well as for treating an illness the employee has suffered. It's also acceptable for an employee to use sick leave to take an immediate family member to a doctor's appointment or help take care of an immediate family member with an illness.

I realize you're trying to make a point, and at first glance, it looks like you are making a relevant point.

However, I'd ask you to take a step back, take a deep breath, and think about the situation. If you do that, I think you may find that you are able to see a different perspective.

I've read a few books on interpersonal interactions and relationships in the work place - one is "Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace." I enjoyed it and it's helped me work better with others. One key point it brings up is the concept of empathy - being able to put yourself in someone else's place and see why they do the things they do. I'd ask you to do that here.

MICHELLE TAFOYA

Having worked as a union steward, I know how petty management can get, looking for any reason to stop the person from performing their job for members. This retaliation is going to cost the city a pretty penny, but hey, it's just taxpayer dollars.

MP Paul

It’s getting hard to believe much of anything that comes from Webber’s administration. His rearrangement of facts to tell a fabricated story that makes himself and senior staff look competent or without fault for the absolute mess they’ve created in Santa Fe is angering Santa Fe residents, and yet he sees the people who are attempting to get the problems fixed as enemies and fires them?

Our city’s fiscal systems’ and accounting procedures are a failure. Our city’s public works is failing at overseeing our street maintenance, weed control, athletic facilities, parks, parking garage and parking meter equipment, waste water management… You can’t get a permit from Land Use. Webber’s homeless programming has left our community reeling from extreme public safety fallout. Yesterday in the early afternoon we heard gunfire in the railyard, a problem occurring frequently these days, and yet our police is painfully understaffed for the growing crime issues we are facing.

But with all the failing city services, and department heads that do need to be fired, Webber has a long time employee and leader of the union fired over a one hour dispute on a time card. Seriously!!! Could he bring city employee morale any lower, or make residents any angrier. While it’s very clear Webber doesn’t have the skill set to run a city, I think we can now ad to the list unprofessional/vindictive actions inappropriate for a mayor, and likely setting up Santa Fe taxpayers to pick up the tab for another lawsuit.

Marci Mel

Right on. This is so typical. When public agencies feel threatened by a single employee and run out of options, they pull out the ol' fraudulent time card trick. If you can't get them on performance, start messing with their time card.

Diane Gonzales

Good summation of all the problems that have befallen our city under Webber's administration. It's difficult to know we had a full-time mayor with all the problems facing the city. His incompetence at running city government has left us having to pick up the pieces in so many areas.

A Ortega

Bravo MP Paul !!! Couldn't be said any better!! Webber and his City Councilor lackey's need to be voted out!!

Susan Garcia

Bravo, and with medium prices of homes being 600k, the streets should be paved with gold, my home town is a beautiful city underneath.

Susan Garcia

Was in response to MP Paul

Tammy Tapia

Waist water has nothing to do with any of what you listed.

Stephen Rauchle

Mr. Chacon, from an informative standpoint this is a great article. However you missed pyramid style - we shouldn't need to wait to the end of the article to find this regards a one hour issue. Also - you have repeated the facts not just once but over and over and over again. Maybe rent is due and you need the column inches, but your editor should have sent this back to you red marked to death allowing you to write a succinct article from all the salient facts. One should not need to fight the writer to read what they wrote.

JJ Set

Try asking this Webber's Constituent Services for help, and they tell you to get an attorney. My Free Legal Aid Attorney is being Ghosted by the City Attorney. Our household has waited more than 18 months to have a Mediation Session along with this City Division's demand for payment for holding the Mediation Session (not in statute) with the Utilities Billing Division over their claims we owe them for Underbilling, which does not use the current (2015) installed digital water use reporting system to prove their City demand in fact. And in print has created fictitious excuses that are uneducated in their reporting and hardware products used to bill us, the users.

Plus, 8th Amendment they won't tell me who filed this accusation of overbilling from a said, "neighbor". As a new meter number for my 30 years of home ownership was suddenly changed from the last five years of payments in full each month. Claiming, it could be anyone, but that the Utilities Billing Division they had credited the unknown, unidentified overbilled claimant nearly $1,000 in credit to their account. And are still ghosting our household and Free Legal Aid attorney.

Additionally, stated all sorts of misinformation, in certified letter reverted back to our household after letter proving the software digital report not their antiquated MS Excel report would prove the paid or invented 'overbilling' audit was FALSE. Yet they refuse to pull that report, even when we went online and pulled down from the Meter Manufacturer, the instructions on "How To", forwarded it to them with our next certified letter of facts.

This Mayor's office, won't help. The Mayor is building out the City for what? The LANL employees, then the Oil Workers in a decade? City Employees get away with excuses for labor shortages -- FIX IT - isn't that YOUR OFFICE'S JOB?

And this Mayor is a leader, in sheep's clothing! We are wondering when will you stop this mismanagement, though claims of professional practices perhaps in your business magazine periodical formerly with articles written by other business professionals got you to Santa Fe. But Alumni from this city's Socratic university has been shut down by your leadership. Driven our free thinking campus to the ground and now overpriced and ignoring what made Santa Fe, the City Different, as now - it's operated like Chicago 1974.

And my City Councilperson, won't even look at my case until I get that Mediation Meeting the City's Utilities Billing Director with the City Attorney refuses to book now into our paying 18% interest (2% over NM usury law of 16%) each month in Finance Charges (interest) on a balance due, we proved, but the Division won't - even stand to speak to. Neither will the Council Person, The Mayor, or The Director.

So this Union Leader knows, and we all do...

Gerald Joyce

Huh?

rodney carswell

ditto

Andrew Lucero

Well JJ, that’s quite the rant there… It’s a shame it’s so unintelligible. But I do sympathize with your plight. (I think?)

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