Non-Christian employees at San Bernardino County’s Workforce Development Department (WDD) complain that the actions of director Sandy Harmsen are creating a hostile work environment. Offended employees put the most recent accusation in writing in an anonymous letter to Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux and each member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
Harmsen is accused of giving preferential treatment to those who are of the same religion and attend the same church she attends. The most recent tipping point came during a mandatory meeting of all employees in her department where Harmsen forced employees to view the above video.
The video is that of a flash mob where Christian group Journey of Faith performs four Christmas classics—“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You, “ “O Come All You Faithful,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and “O Holy Night”—and three actors appear towards the end portraying Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Those nearby kneel to worship the Christ child.
Some employees tell byteclay.com they are not Christians and were offended that they were forced to sit through the video. They also say that Harmsen frequently talks about her religion and that hiring and firing choices are based on her religious preferences.
One employee, who was not part of writing the letter in question, contacted this reporter to say they were demoted so that Harmsen could give the employee’s job to a family member. Another wrote in response to this reporter’s inquiry but who was not a part of the original letter, “I wonder what a new hire, a Hindu, thinks of her sharing her religion.”
Accusation of this nature against Harmsen have been ongoing for over a decade but the county’s Human Resources Department, which is tasked with such investigating such complaints, has never taken them seriously. Harmsen is what many call a “golden girl” in the county hierarchy—a favorite of the county’s top administrators. Her own daughter was hired by the County Administrative Office and her son-in-law is a former chief of staff to the chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Harmsen is considered by many to be untouchable. In addition to the refusal of the county’s top administrators to deal with the Harmsen situation, which has gone on since the early 2000s, Harmsen’s position within the county is further bolstered by her relationship with the First District Supervisor Robert “Bob” Lovingood and his staff. Lovingood owns a local temporary employment agency and Harmsen’s WDD has worked closely with it creating job fairs and training opportunities for displaced workers and those with no employment background or training.
Lovingood has been a vocal supporter of minimum wage jobs, which fits the county’s goal of getting its welfare population minimally employed so that they can remain on welfare while meeting federal welfare-to-work requirements. Lovingood is also a strong critic of county employees, feeling they are overpaid and receive too many benefits.
Adding to her political connections is the fact that the union representative for WDD employees, Natalie Harts, has failed to take complaints forward but rather helped county human resource officers go after those that complain. Harts is the same union representative that failed to take forward complaints by employees of the Department of Children and Family Services (CFS) of harassment, understaffing, and a variety of other concerns that were highlighted in a Fox News Los Angeles special report series “Children are Dying.”
WDD employees are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which only recently affiliated with the San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA). Harts remained in her position even after the affiliation.
So far, even the Teamsters have been unwilling to do anything about the WDD situation or the problem with Harts helping county officials against employees. CFS employees, on the other hand, decertified SBPEA and are now represented by Service Employees International Union, Local 721.
According to David Wert, Public Information Officer for the County Administrative Office, as of Tuesday the letter, which can be found here, was not received by Devereaux. Once received, if history is any indication, the county will attempt to track down and punish the author without dealing with the complaint.