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Spring 2012

Workers seek union security

by County and City Employee staff on May 1, 2012

Fear of budget cuts, staff reductions, increasing furloughs and possible layoffs are continuing to drive non-unionized local government workers in Washington State to join Council 2.

It is not always an easy path. Management is often resistant to the formation of a union and tries to find ways to block it, slowing down the process. But, assisted by Council 2, the workers eventually prevail and are added to the union ranks.

In recent months, 140 such workers in three districts have joined Council 2. Here are their stories.

City of Arlington

Early last year 60 City of Arlington employees realized that they had no union protection in the face of threatening budget cuts, although workers in the police and fire departments did. So they contacted Council 2.

Hearing of the effort to organize the workers, management created a group called the Employee Representative Board to discuss employee issues with the city. The problem was that the board consisted not only of some hourly workers, but also of managers and supervisors.

 When Council 2 filed a petition to organize the workers, management asserted that the workers were already represented by the Employee Representative Board. But Council 2 pointed out that the board did not fulfill the requirements of a bargaining unit as set out by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) as managers and supervisors were included in it.

“We filed to organize only the non-supervisory employees,” says Council 2 Director of Organizing Bill Keenan. “But the City insisted it would not allow the group to be broken up.”

A pre-election telephone conference was set up to determine whether the issue could be decided without a perc hearing. But the discussion was unsuccessful at resolving the issue and a date was set for a perc hearing.

“Before the hearing was held, however, the City withdrew their position and agreed to our bargaining unit,” Keenan says.

The election was held in December. Workers voted 2-to-1 to join Council 2.

“They were upset with the City’s tactics and the election saw a 90 percent turnout,” Keenan says.

The first general membership meeting of the new local 2010 was held in the first week of February at which a bargaining committee was formed. The local’s constitution is being drawn up and preparation is being made for the election of new officers. The City has requested that the issue of furloughs be one of the first bargaining issues.

Pierce County

After a two-year struggle, 55 maintenance workers at Pierce County’s Wastewater Treatment Plant have joined Council 2.

The application to join the union came first from 11 maintenance workers in the treatment plant.

“In order to thwart our attempt, the County claimed that another 40 workers — who do a different kind of work — should be part of the bargaining unit,” Keenan says. “We filed an application for a unit clarification and the issue went to PERC. The commission ruled that the 55 workers should be one group.”

An election was held in December and the 55 workers voted overwhelmingly to join the union.

The new members will be part of Local 120-G, the general government union of Pierce County. 

Keenan pays tribute to Todd Carlson, now shop steward for the treatment plant, for his work in getting the workers organized.

“He was not only instrumental in organizing the original group of 11 workers, but also worked among the other 44,” he says. “He put a tremendous amount of work into it and was like a one-man organizing campaign.

King County Superior Court

Concerned about their future in a world of reduced state funding, layoffs and staff reductions, 15 CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program specialists and attorneys and five court coordinators sought some two years ago to become members of Council 2.

The union felt the two groups should be part of an existing bargaining unit of Juvenile Court Probation Counselors and Support Staff, but the court disagreed, saying that they should be two separate units.

After a number of hearings, PERC included the Court Coordinators in the existing Local 2084-SC bargaining unit, but declared that the casa group should be a separate unit.

Both groups are now represented by Council 2 and are working on contract language.