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168 Days: What The Hell Just Happened?

By Ken Snyder

Once the initial shock wore off, the absolute confusion set in. "I see a trend..." kept running through my mind -- what "trend"? In a little over five months, I had assembled and tested new traffic signal control cabinets, saw one of these actually installed and operating in the field, repaired numerous detection cameras, changed what seemed to be a thousand signal light bulbs, updated blueprints of signal installations, spliced fiber optic cables, assisted in troubleshooting problems with signals, thought I was liked and appreciated by all my co-workers and was told several times my work showed good attention to detail. So what was this "trend"?

The first one I had to tell was my wife. Absolutely the hardest thing I've had to tell her in all our years of marriage. To this day she has a hard time discussing what happened. Others had reactions ranging from things I won't post here (expletives en masse) to "you could have knocked me over with a feather when you told me that". More than one responded with comments regarding how I didn't "know" anyone in BPU before being hired, so it wasn't surprising I wasn't "kept."

The following week I had a notice in my mailbox about a certified letter at the post office I needed to pick up. It was from DeLeon and it was just as ambiguous:
The BPU has determined that you have violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement and rules of the Employee Handbook.
OK, that makes it clearer....... No further explanation given, not one single example of where I had "gone wrong."

The only thing I could think of is that I had taken off too many days during my probationary period. It couldn't be due to my work -- I had been told how well I had been doing and felt that my co-workers were glad to have me around. My last evaluation (the one really held in April) said "has improved" on it in black and white. With the exception of a phone call while at a work site (something I had witnessed all the others do), the comment DeGraeve got upset over and the controller incident (NONE OF WHICH I WAS TOLD WERE PLACING MY EMPLOYMENT IN JEOPARDY) things had been going smooth. So, how many days had I taken off? Twelve: one without pay when I was sick, one without pay when Chelsea was sick, and ten for Air National Guard duty. But they can't do that, can they? They certainly can -- if you took the advice of every lawyer that would even return my calls: they all wanted to say how Kansas was an "at-will employment" state, without even conditions for just cause. Besides, I was a probationary employee, as low on the totem pole as you could get.

I had to get to the bottom of this. At the least, I would be better prepared for my next employer -- whoever that would be. So I sent a certified letter of my own to DeLeon, asking for a "full and unedited copy" of my employee file. Instead of getting a copy of my file, DeLeon tried to call me. I was told not to talk to them over the phone, to get everything in writing and avoid a case of "he said/she said." Shortly after the phone attempt, I sent him another letter. However, this time I didn't send it certified -- but I did send a copy of it to the General Manager, every BPU board member, and the two lawyers (to whom DeLeon had sent my certified termination letter) to. Absolutely no response.

I was beginning to think this was going to no nowhere -- they were going to get away with it.


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