CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge ordered that two airport security guards must be given their jobs back after they were fired for talking to the press about a union strike last year.
U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin on Thursday granted a preliminary injunction to the National Labor Relations Board, which represented Marcie Barnett and Sadaf Subijano in the case against Universal Security.
The two worked at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and became leaders in the campaign to unionize security guards there.
During a strike in March 2016, Barnett told reporters that Universal was retaliating against its workers for fighting for a $15 minimum wage and that she was struggling to make ends meet.
Subijano told the media that he was worried airport guards were not prepared to deal with a serious security threat.
They were fired two weeks later.
“Universal argues that Barnett’s and Subijano’s statements threatened the safety of the airport,” Judge Durkin’s order states, adding that the company claimed the workers’ statements to the media revealed sensitive security information about the airport and made themselves vulnerable to outside influence.
“The [NLRB] Director argues that they were fired because they participated in union organizing activities and spoke to the press about a strike and their working conditions,” the 21-page order states.
The judge sided with the NLRB, finding that the guards did not discuss any specifics about their jobs, equipment or security access in their interviews with reporters.
“The ambiguity of the statements in question, and the evidence undermining Universal’s alleged motives, create a reasonable argument that Universal terminated Barnett and Subijano because of their public involvement in union organizing, and not because they disclosed [sensitive security information],” Durkin wrote.
Durkin also questioned the timing of the guards’ firing.
“If public disclosure of employees’ identities is such a clear and present security risk, Universal should have fired Barnett and Subijano the moment their identities appeared in the newspaper (and not required security guards to wear nametags). But Universal waited two weeks to fire them,” he wrote. “A statement disclosing information that clearly implicated airport security should have resulted in immediate termination, not the two weeks of consideration that occurred here.” (Parentheses in original.)
The judge ordered that Barnett and Subijano must be offered reinstatement to their jobs by Tuesday.
Universal did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.