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Riverside County Workers Vote For LIUNA Affiliate Over Independent

 

By Carolyn Whetzel

Tuesday, June 17, 1997

 

LOS ANGELES--The Laborers' International Union of North America scored its biggest victory in California's public-employee sector June 9, beating out an incumbent independent union for the right to represent some 4,800 Riverside County workers.

 

A majority in each of the three bargaining units voting in the closely watched contest opted for the Laborers' affiliate, United Public Employees of California (UPEC) Local 777, over the 20-year-old Public Employee Association of Riverside County (PERC).

 

In the largest unit, which is comprised of 3,200 support service workers, 1,005 workers voted for UPEC, 886 favored PERC, and 77 voted for no union, according to the California Mediation and Conciliation Service, a division of the state's Department of Industrial Relations, which conducts all public sector elections. Inspection and technical workers voted 326 to 243 to switch unions, with 22 workers voting against unionization, and workers in the trades, craft, and labor unit voted 261 to 180 to join UPEC, with nine workers voting for no union.

 

The units include fire safety employees, non-sworn public safety officers, road maintenance workers, mental health and hospital workers, clerical staff, court employees, and social service workers.

 

“This win is one of the largest AFL-CIO organizing victories of the last 10 years,” Arthur A. Coia, general president of LIUNA and chair of the AFL-CIO organizing committee, said in a June 9 statement. “LIUNA continues its commitment to bring new workers into organized labor, and we are pleased with this resounding victory.”

 

Fred Lowe, UPEC Local 777 business manager, told BNA June 11 that the successful decertification effort was entirely employee-driven.

 

“There was a lot of general dissatisfaction among the workers, particularly over grievance procedures,” he said.

 

Other factors contributing to UPEC's success could be linked to PERC's inability to win salary increases in its last round of contract negotiations while other county unions negotiated raises, and its failure to resist the county's move toward privatization. Lowe said.

 

The election wipes out 60 percent of PERC's county employee membership. Remaining PERC members belong to two bargaining units comprised of supervisors, quasi-professional, nursing, and probation personnel.

 

UPEC had petitioned for elections in all five units, but fell 10 percent shy of collecting sufficient signatures in the two remaining units.

 

Existing PERC Contracts Expire June 30

 

All existing PERC contracts expire June 30, which could clear the way for UPEC to resume its efforts to organize the two units, Lowe said.

 

The Riverside County ordinance governing union elections, however, could thwart a renewed drive, Lowe said. “It is one of the most restrictive ordinances I've seen and it favors keeping the existing union,” he added.

 

Each county and city in California can develop its own ordinance to determine how union elections are conducted. The Riverside County ordinance provides that a union can begin collecting authorization cards six months prior to the expiration of an existing contract. However, the union only has a 30-day period from the day it begins collecting signatures to obtain signatures from at least 40 percent of the bargaining unit, according to Lowe. In other California cities and counties, only 30 percent of signed authorization cards typically are required, he said.

 

PERC campaigned vigorously to fight the takeover bid. Soon after the petition drive was completed, the independent filed a lawsuit in state court to stop the election process (Public Employees Association of Riverside County v. County of Riverside, Calif SuperCt, San Bernardino County, No. SCV3769, 5/15/97). The union contended that UPEC did not have enough valid signatures to go forward with the elections.

 

A San Bernardino County judge who heard the case, after it was transferred from Riverside County because PERC represents court employees, however rejected the restraining order request.

 

PERC general manager Dave Platt could not be reached for comment.

 

The election increases UPEC's membership to an estimated 15,000 statewide.

 

Copyright © 1997 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.


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