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Fired Paramedic Wins First Round in Retaliation Case

PLANTATION, Fla. -- An emergency medical technician fired after trying to unionize fellow members of the Fire Department was the victim of unfair labor practices and should be reinstated with back pay, an official of the state's Public Employee Relations Commission has found.

Plantation Fire Chief Robert Pudney wrongly fired Jude Diaz, 40, on Dec. 27, 2007, after he refused to grant him temporary unpaid leave for a knee injury, Hearing Officer William J. Salmon concluded Monday.

Diaz, a Davie resident who had worked for the city since 1996, waged an unsuccessful bid to form a union in the Rescue Division of the Fire Department in 2005. He claimed Pudney's actions against him were retaliatory.

To take effect, Salmon's recommendations must be approved by the state's Public Employee Relations Commission, based in Tallahassee. The commission has 90 days to act.

Pudney could not be reached Wednesday for comment, but Fire Department spokesman Joel Gordon said the matter is not over.

"That is the recommendation from the hearing officer," Gordon said. "That is only the beginning of the process. The city has the opportunity to challenge it in a court of law."

Diaz said he felt vindicated, and he plans to renew his attempts to form a union.

"The workers were afraid, now they need to know when you do things right and you follow the law, eventually you'll be vindicated," Diaz said. "I have seen a lot of unfair treatment there, special treatment for certain individuals, I've seen a lot of good people leave. We need to set that straight, we need to fix that."

In his 35-page finding, Salmon recommended that the unfair labor practice charge against the city be upheld, and that Diaz be re-instated to a position "equivalent" to the one he held in 2007 and be awarded reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

Diaz, whose wife is disabled, has been unemployed since his firing.

The order also requests that notices be posted for 60 days in "conspicuous places" at the city's six fire stations stating that Plantation will "cease and desist" from committing unfair labor practices.

Diaz also joined six other active and former Rescue Division employees in filing a federal suit in October 2005 claiming Pudney and two other administrators were harassing them for trying to organize the union. The lawsuit has not yet been resolved.

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