Four officials who previously worked in the Municipality of Nicoya filed against Mayor Marcos Jimenez Muñoz with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS- Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social) and the Administrative Court of Contentions for alleged unfair labor practices.
Betweennow and 2011 when his administration began, there has been a restructuring of municipal staff positions, according to Mayor Jimenez, in order to organize and take better advantage of human resources.
The Voice of Guanacaste investigated the allegations of the officials who have been relieved of their duties.
The first of these four officials to be removed was Catherine Chacon Loaiza, who began working in 2006 in the legal council office of the municipality and later in 2009 moved to the position in Internal Control.
From June to October of 2011, Chacon requested maternity leave without pay from the mayor, which was granted. However, when she returned to work in October of that year, the mayor informed her that she would continue doing her work telecommuting, ie working from home.
Chacon worked telecommuting from October of 2011 until December 31, 2012, the month in which the mayor informed her that her position would be eliminated and her functions would be terminated.
Nearly two years later, in September of 2014, Chacon presented an appeal to the Ministry of Labor against Jimenez, claiming alleged unfair labor practices such as: unjustified dismissal, without regard for exercising the rights of workers who are part of a union, and committing acts of sabotage that impede or hinder the development of labor activities.
Chacon also complained that no study or technical report regarding closing the position was made by Aylin Espinoza Lopez, who was in charge of the human resources department at the time. In addition, Chacon claims that, according to the collective convention agreed on between the union and the municipality, in case of an internal restructuring of the mayor’s office, a minimum of 60% of municipal employees should be included and members of the board of directors of unions should be the last ones to be removed from their positions.
Chacon said that in 2013, there were approximately 60 employees in the administrative area of the municipality and only two positions were eliminated in 2014.
In November of 2014, the Chorotega Regional Administration for Labor Inspection declared that the complaint filed by Chacon Loaiza is valid and later also rejected several appeals and requests for revocation from the mayor.
Everything Under Control?
Chacon believes that the purpose of eliminating her position was not just for the municipality to save resources but also for the mayor to have less restrictions in exercising internal control in the administration.
“I managed several things witin my job by my own initiative, not because the mayor ordered me. I made a code of ethics, a risk assessment. The projection of the position was to improve municipal tasks and prevent occupational hazards. However I believe that the mayor was never pleased with my work,” Chacon said.
Regarding this situation, Jimenez affirmed that he proposed the removal of the position due to considering it unnecessary since the internal control of the municipality should be exercised by all of the administrative departments of the mayor’s office and a large part of thatfunction corresponds to the internal auditing office of the municipality.
“The law states that the administration handles the internal control, not one person, and the administration is a group of people who are involved in the municipal administration. The internal auditing office is part of internal control process that the municipality should perform and they conuct studies. Internal control is practiced in all of the administrative units of the municipal government,” Jimenez affirmed.
Similarly, Erick Badilla Monge, coordinator of the Municipal Administrative Career of the National Union of Local Governments, who was hired in 2011 by the municipality to make a new manual of positions, explained that there was a duplication of functions in the position that Chacon occupied.
“The position of internal control has three main areas as objectives. The first is to dictate control policies, which should be exercised by the municipal council. Later, these policies should be implemented, which is the responsibility of each head of the municipal departments. And finally, it shoud be inspected, which is a function of the internal auditing office. That’s why we arrived at the conclusion that there was duplication of functions,” he explained.
For now, they are waiting for the labor court to establish the final resolution in the case of Chacon to know whether or not she should return to her position.
Like Catherine Chacon, the dismissal of Adrian Rojas Herrera was due to the implementation of the new manual of positions, when his planning position was eliminated for reasons of restructuring.
In a note on November 29, 2013, Mayor Marcos Jimenez communicated to Rojas the decision to eliminate his position, which became effective on January 1, 2014.
In response, Rojas, who is also unionized with the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP- Asociacion Nacional de Empleados Publicos y Privados), filed a demand through the union before the Administrative Court of Contentions against the mayor, alleging unfair labor practices due to violation of due process and blocking legality, which means that he was never informed about the restructuring process that was carried out internally in the municipality and much less of the elimination of his position.
Rojas thinks a key factor in his departure was the arrival of Erick Badilla Monge, a consultant who was hired by the Municipality of Nicoya for the amount of ¢2,000,000 ($3800) to develop the new manual of positions and be incharge of the municipal restructuring.
Rojas commented that his duties as planner included directing and advising institutional planning and development as well as developing the municipal Annual Operating Plan (PAO- Plan Operativo Anual).
Before being dismissed, the municipality paid Rojas Herrera approximately ¢1,000,000 ($1900) monthly Rojas.
He believes that losing his job was due to a whim of the mayor and because it never had the approval of human resources or the planning department.
“For me, it is a whim of the mayor and the consultant was willing to do his liking. That restructuring never had the approval of the human resources and the planning department. We were never involved in the process,” he commented.
For his part, Marcos Jimenez maintained that the decision to remove the planning position was “because the work that we required was not being done” and because it was part of the new organizational structure of the municipality.
“We have been in a restructuring process since 2011 and this process has led to a new organizational structure, which makes logical sense and is recognized by the Comptroller General of the Republic,” Jimenez explained.
Sister-In-Law In Charge of Planning and Budgeting
Meanwhile, Erick Badilla commented that, as a result of this new organization, the budgeting and accounting departments were separated in 2013, and the planning and budgeting departmentsmerged in 2014, under the direction of Daisy Marin Jimenez, who was previously an accounting assistant and is the sister of the mayor’s wife.
Regarding Marin’sreceiving the position in the new planning and budgeting department, Badilla said the appointment is valid because she worked for the municipality before Marcos Jimenez was elected as mayor in 2010.
In April of 2015, the Administrative Court of Contentions issued a precautionary measure ordering the mayor to reinstatement Rojas to the municipal payroll immediatelly.
In this way, Rojas returned to work and received wages for a month, since he again had to leavehis post because of an appeal presented by Jimenez, in which he argued that he did not have a budget to continue paying Rojas’ salary and because his position no longer existed.
Meanwhile, Rojas is awaiting a final decision from the court with the goal of returning to his post and payment of hiseconomic compensation.
From 2004 until March 5, 2014, Julio Lopez Diaz was the coordinator of the Road Management Technical Unit (UTGV- Unidad Tecnica de Gestion Vial), and since being suspended, he has received full payment of his salary of ¢1,075,000 ($2,025) from the municipality.
His dismissal ocurred because Mayor Marco Jimenez ordered an investigation into possible irregularities in the performance of Lopez’s job functions as coordinator of the UTGV.
For this reason, in September of 2014, Lopez filed an appeal with the Ministry of Labor against the mayor for alleged unfair labor practices, including: disregard for union codes and violation of due process.
Lopez claims that the seriousness of the suspension is that he believes there is union persecution since he is the secretary of disputes for the Association of Professional Technicians of the Municipality of Nicoya (APROTEMUNI) and his unionized status was not respected.
In addition, he acknowledged that his salary is paid with public funds, resources that could be used in public works in the canton.
“I believe that union persecution exists. My wife [Aylin Espinoza] and I are members of a board of directors that covers us with an international code of workers that has been violated. There is harm to public finances and to all Nicoyans, because, while I am out [of the office], a professional salary has been paid and that involves sums of several million colones (thousands of dollars) that could have been used in the repair of several roads,” he affirmed.
On the other hand, Jimenez stated that another factor that he took into account in relieving Lopez of his duties, in addition to the investigation, was because Lopez was being paid the salary of someone licensed when he just has an undergraduate degree in civil engineering.
“In the case of Julio Lopez, he was being paid a salary at the level of someone licensed without having an engineering license, because hejust has a university bachelor’s degree. The current head of the Technical Unit (Victor Reyes) is at the licensed level, so we are complying with the law in this case,” Jimenez affirmed.
Erick Badilla Monge, coordinator of the Municipal Administrative Career of the National Union of Local Governments (UNGL- Union Nacional de Gobiernos Locales), pointed out that technically Lopez can act as a civil engineer. However, the Law of Public Administration states that those in charge of municipal departments should have a minimum level of being licensed in their profession.
A year after Lopez filed the complaint, the board of labor relations of the Ministry of Labor has not issued a ruling.
Like her husband, Aylin Espinoza Lopez, coordinator of human resources for the Municipality of Nicoya since 2006, was suspended with pay on September 12, 2014. The salary that Espinoza receives is ¢1,100,000 ($2,075) monthly.
In the document, Mayor Marcos Jimenez based the suspension of the officialon beginning an investigation and studies of alleged irregularities in the human resources department.
Similarly, Espinoza filed her complaint with the Ministry of Labor on November 24, 2014, accusing the mayorof alleged unfair labor practices.
In addition, Lopez denounced the mayor for workplace harassment and she feels that there is union persecution in the municipality and that the staff work in fear, afraid of being fired.
“At one time, the mayor told me to do things and told me, ‘see thatnow your husband is at home.’ I felt it was workplace harassment, because if not, [I] would be suspended. I have felt that municipal officials are afraid of being fired or being suspended,” she said.
For his part, the mayor remarked that Espinoza, as coordinator of the human resources department, paid her husband a higher salary than what he should have received.
“With Mrs. Aylin in charge of human resources, she was paying her husband a salary at the level of someone licensed when he really has a bachelor’s degree,” said Jimenez.
In addition, Erick Badilla Monge added that during the time Espinoza worked at the municipality, there was no manual of positions and there was no clarity when it comes to naming the officials in charge of being department heads.
“Before there wasn’t a manual of positions for any of the roles or department heads of the municipality. We are professionalizing with this organizational change,” Badilla explained.
After Espinoza was suspend from her job, the administrative director of the municipality, Franklin Sequeira, is the person who has the responsibility of coordinating the human resources department, while Espinoza’s labor situation is resolved.