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.