Ballot to give deputies choice of unions

Sworn sheriff’s deputies and sergeants took a tentative step away from the powerful Deputy Sheriffs Association on Tuesday, as the Board of Supervisors approved a union election that could leave the law enforcement personnel with a new bargaining unit.

The 5-0 vote to allow officers to vote on new representation is the culmination of efforts that began more than a year ago.

The board action will give sworn sheriff’s personnel a choice of being represented by the Deputy Sheriffs Association, the Association of San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs, or neither.

That election will take place within 45 days.

Dispatchers, correctional officers, forensics specialists, support staff and others would remain with the DSA.

Senior Deputy Patrick Zuchelli, acting president of the ASLOCDS, said Tuesday that sworn deputies wanted to move out on their own rather than belong to a blended union.

He said last year that many deputies were upset at the way the election endorsements were handled in 2008.

“We believe our integrity was in question, and that is when over 70 percent of the sworn staff decided it was time to leave (the DSA),” Zuchelli said in a news release at the time.

He added that “the … scandal involving tainted bargaining practices seals the deal.”

That last was an allusion to an affair between former Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox and DSA negotiator Tony Perry when both were professionally involved in union negotiations, on opposite sides of the bargaining table.

Wilcox was fired, but Perry remained, and he spoke Tuesday against the election that supervisors ultimately approved.

Zuchelli estimated that the move would affect about 140 deputies, senior deputies and sergeants.

The DSA fought the move during a two-hour hearing at which lawyers for the county, the DSA and ASLOCDS went into great technical detail about procedure and wording.

“Here we are in divorce court,” quipped Supervisor Adam Hill. But, he added, “the only way to resolve this is to have an election.”

The county’s Human Resources Director and management negotiator, Tami Douglas-Schatz, reminded all the participants that “the overarching issue (is that) employees have a right to choose their own representative.”

Alison Berry Wilkinson, the DSA attorney, called the decision unlawful, which led Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Frank Mecham to infer that the DSA might sue.