Washington, DC — Employees of the National Bison Range Complex are seeking formal review of their charges of abuse and intimidation during the recently terminated joint operation with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), according to correspondence released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition to filing a formal grievance, the attorney for refuge employees reports new threats and promises of retaliation.
On September 19, 2006, seven employees at the National Bison Range filed an unusual joint grievance with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. On December 11, 2006, the Service cancelled the troubled 18 month-long arrangement with the tribes citing both non-performance and harassment of refuge employees. Shortly thereafter, on December 29, the Interior Department, the parent agency over the Service, intervened and reversed the Service’s decision, announcing its “intention to reestablish a working relationship” with the CSKT.
All this time, the National Bison Range employees had no word on the status or outcome of their grievance. In a letter dated January 17, 2007 to Interior, the refuge employees’ attorney, Elizabeth Baker of the Hughes, Kellner, Sullivan & Alke law-firm based in Helena, noted that the agency has yet to –
- Convey any “meaningful” assurance that employees will not again face “intolerable working conditions;”
- Provide the employees with a copy of the report from the independent investigation commissioned by the Fish & Wildlife Service into their grievance. All the employees have been provided are summaries of their own interviews with the investigator; and
- Meet directly with the employees. Scheduled interviews with the designated EEO counselor from Interior did not take place and the time period for EEO investigation expired.
In a January 3, 2007 letter, Ms. Baker cites a threat to one of her clients that he will “know who the boss is now” following Interior’s announcement to re-open negotiations with CSKT.
“It is obvious that the Interior Department is in regular contact with the CSKT but is ignoring its own employees—and that is just not right,” stated Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. “Interior owes the folks out at the National Bison Range straight answers about how it will specifically guarantee against the reoccurrence of this type of abuse.”
The grievance filing is subject to a seven-day technical review, which then triggers a 20-day period for FWS to issue a decision. Following the agency’s decision, the employees may request a formal evidentiary hearing before a personnel appeals examiner in the Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals. Next week, top Interior officials are slated to begin discussions about restoring funding for shared operations of the refuge with the CSKT.