Eighteen civilian firefighters barred from working at an Air Force plant in Palmdale for allegedly using drugs and alcohol on the job have won a 45-month fight to regain their security clearances so they can return to work, their attorney said Wednesday.
Attorney Dan Stormer, who represented 25 of 31 employees who were barred in August, 1983, said a Department of Defense hearing examiner has ruled that the charges were unfounded and concluded that it is “consistent with the national interest” to approve security clearances for the 18.
Stormer told reporters that he has notified the Production Flight Test Installation at Air Force Plant 42 that those who were cleared by examiner Jerry Muskrat on May 20 plan to return to work immediately.
And, he said, the seven who did not win back their security clearances plan to appeal Muskrat’s finding that six of them either knew or should have known about drug and alcohol use by others at the plant. Muskrat found that a seventh man had used marijuana while off duty.
As for the remaining number who were originally barred, Stormer said six of them had decided not to join the suit against the government.
Stormer estimated that Muskrat’s decision would cost the federal government up to $3 million in back pay for the cleared firefighters. Payments to individuals could run as high as $160,000 each, he said.
He charged that his clients had been singled out, not for use of drugs and alcohol, but because of their union activities.
Army Maj. Charles Thebaud, who represented the Department of Defense, said by telephone from Washington Wednesday that the federal government has not decided whether to appeal the examiner’s decision. He said he could not comment on the case.
Terry Parsons, 34, one of the reinstated firefighters who attended a press conference in Stormer’s Wilshire Boulevard office, said being barred had cost him his house, his car and finally his marriage, which ended in divorce.
“I’m not angry. That’s life. You just have to grin and bear it. I can’t wait to go back,” Parsons said.
But, Marvin Crist, 32, one of those who intends to keep fighting for clearance, said: “Some of us are mad. We don’t want to see this happen to anyone else.”
Crist was a past president of Local I 25 of the International Assn. of Firefighters, which represented 127 employees at Plant 42, including about 85 firemen employed by Nero & Associates Inc., a civilian contractor that provided firefighting services.
Plant 42 is a nine-square-mile complex of runways, aircraft hangars, assembly plants and warehouses owned and maintained by the Air Force. Rockwell International Corp., Northrop Corp. and Lockheed Aircraft Corp. operate there.
Then-USAF Maj. Michael Crosby was commander of the facility nearly four years ago when the government’s Defense Investigative Service uncovered allegations of drug and alcohol abuse at the plant. Crosby was later transferred and promoted to lieutenant colonel, according to Stormer.
Acting on information gathered at that time, Crosby barred 28 firefighters and two managers of Nero & Associates from re-entering the plant. The number of those barred later rose to 31. One of the accused was fired, and the rest were eventually put on unpaid leave.
In discussing the reinstatement of his clients Wednesday, Stormer accused the federal government of “arrogance” in at first denying a hearing to the firefighters for more than a year and a half.
Stormer said the firefighters were forced to go to federal court, where U.S. Judge Consuelo B. Marshall ruled in December, 1984, that they were entitled to a hearing on the charges made against them.