NEWS AND OPINION – LOS ANGELES, USA: This is an animal shelter story from Los Angeles which sort of fits in with the whistle-blower/gagging culture at some animal shelters. It is about volunteer rights. In this shelter, the Los Angeles Harbor Animal Shelter, one volunteer, Jan Bunker, 74, said that she was dismissed by the director of volunteer programs at animal services, Juan Rivera, for requesting to record on a smart phone a meeting that Rivera had set up with Bunker. She refused to hand her phone to Rivera and was fired instantly as reported by Los Angeles Times.
Manager’s demand to hand over phone refused by volunteer
Rivera had asked Bunker before the meeting to give up her phone. I take that to mean that he did not want the meeting to be recorded on the phone and in taking it off Bunker he was sure that that would not happen.
Bunker refused his request because she wanted to record the meeting perhaps because it was about her concerns on the running of the shelter. She challenged her boss’s request to give up the device.
Bunker asked whether Juan was a lawyer. I’m going to presume that there might have been a discussion which has not been reported in which the legality of taking a phone from a volunteer was discussed. And that, to me, seems to be the critical issue in this report. To be clear: does a animal shelter boss or any employer for that matter, have the right to take the cell phone from a volunteer or employee before a meeting to prevent the meeting been recorded? The answer should be in the contract and if not, it might be an unreasonable demand.
Rivera said that his lawyer told him that he has the right to take a phone from his volunteers. He then went on to say that Bunker was being insubordinate and that the meeting was over because she refused to hand over the phone.
He then yelled at Bunker, “You’re fired!”
An employee can only be insubordinate if they refuse to carry out a reasonable request/demand. If it is unreasonable, it can be refused and not be a breach of contract.
That is the essence of the story but there’s a back story to this as well because it is claimed that this particular shelter is badly run. It is claimed that volunteers are being lent on too much to do an array of tasks.
Badly run shelter?
Bunker and other volunteers have described seeing small animals without food and water. And they have spent their own money on supplies for the animals.
There has been another dismissal of a volunteer for not wearing a mask at the shelter. They say that the dismissals make recruiting more volunteers difficult.
In response, it appears that the Los Angeles Times contacted Animal Services and a spokesperson, Agnes Sibal, said that the department doesn’t comment on personal issues.
The feeling that I have from the story is that there are some issues regarding management of this shelter affecting animal welfare and the volunteers are called upon to do tasks which might be beyond their normal remit and that and when they complain as appears to have happened with Bunker, they are shut down and categorised as being insubordinate.
I don’t know the terms and conditions of the contract between volunteers and the shelter. It probably allows them to dismiss volunteers summarily without any notice but that needs to be checked.
P.S. Nathan Winograd tweeted the following on November 9 which led me to the story above: L.A. volunteers have exposed dogs not being walked for months: https://lat.ms/3AkxilO, staff hitting dogs: https://lat.ms/3QLkaM7, and neglect and abuse of rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters: https://lat.ms/3SDWsTq.
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