State employees union asks judge to hold state in contempt for requiring return to in-person work

Jan. 19, 2024, 4:30 p.m. ·

Lancaster County Courthouse
A hearing was held at Lancaster County District Court Friday morning to determine whether the State of Nebraska should be held in contempt for requiring some state employees to return to in-person work. (Photo by Brian Beach/Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Association of Public Employees (NAPE) asked a judge to hold the State of Nebraska in contempt for unlawfully requiring some state employees to return to in-person work.

A hearing was held Friday morning in Lancaster County District Court.

In December, NAPE was granted a motion of temporary relief from the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR), which halted the implementation of Governor Jim Pillen’s executive order requiring workers to return to the office in January.

But Justin Hubly, the union’s executive director, said he received some complaints from union members that were required to return to in-person work despite the ruling.

Hubly believes dozens of employees were unlawfully called back to the office, though the majority of state departments abided by the order.

“That's really great, but that doesn't mean people weren't harmed last week when (The Department of) Revenue called people back on the 10th,” he said. “State Patrol called people back immediately. So some people were harmed, and we need to make them whole.”

That led the union to go to court to seek an order from a Lancaster County judge holding the state in contempt.

Jason Jackson, director of the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services was called to testify by both the State and NAPE. Jackson fielded questions for nearly two hours from both attorneys.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Andrew Jacobsen questioned whether he had the authority to issue judgment against the State of Nebraska.

Hubly said he understands the confusion, given the case’s unprecedented nature.

“I appreciate the judges' confusion,” he said. “We're a little confused too. In the 35-year case law history since the State Employees Collective Bargaining Act was passed — we've looked at the case law — nobody has ever tried to circumvent a CIR order. So we're in uncharted territory.”

A decision on the hearing will be made within seven days.

By way of full disclosure, some Nebraska Public Media staff are members of the NAPE AFSCME union.