New union for deputy sheriffs

After a year of political and legal wrangling, sergeants and sworn deputies of the county Sheriff’s Department have voted for a new union to represent them.

The Association of San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs will represent 141 Sheriff’s Department sergeants and deputies, while the Deputy Sheriffs Association will remain the bargaining unit for 211 County Jail and dispatch employees.

“Of course being on the losing side is very disappointing to the DSA,” said Dale Strobridge, association president. “The DSA has been the strongest labor organization in San Luis Obispo County for the past 15 years. We get our strength through numbers, and numbers bring influence and money and political influence during elections. This weakens our bargaining power.”

The seeds of a new union were sown in January 2009 when the nascent organization petitioned and received approval from the county to form a new unit. The DSA on Jan. 5 appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors and lost on a unanimous vote that employees have the right to choose their own representation.

The vote, which was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, was challenged in Judge Charles Crandall’s court as recently as Wednesday when the DSA sought a temporary restraining order on counting the ballots.

Crandall ruled against the DSA. County Clerk Julie Rodewald certified the results Thursday.

The sergeants vote tally was: Of 15 eligible voters, nine decoded to join the ASLOCDS, while five voted to stay with the DSA.

Of 126 eligible deputy sheriffs, 80 voted to go with the new union and 35 opted to stay with the DSA.

Attempts to reach Patrick Zuchelli, spokesman for the ASLOCDS, were unsuccessful.

Strobridge said late Thursday that several factors played into the unfavorable outcome for the DSA.

“We’ve been riding this wave of controversy over here (at the sheriff’s office) with the sheriff and Hoving. Things have been unsettled at the sheriff’s office for some period of time. It’s had an impact on the vote yesterday.”

The county gave Chief Deputy Gary Hoving a $660,000 settlement in September 2008 after it was discovered that Sheriff Pat Hedges had secretly tape-recorded him.

Hoving is now retired.

It also didn’t help, Strobridge said, when DSA negotiator Tony Perry and Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox had an “improper relationship. It was hurtful and had an impact in this (vote). But there wasn’t any wrongdoing during labor negotiations, there was no way there was collaboration on a devious deal,” he said.

Another blow to the DSA, he said, was the organization’s decision to endorse Adam Hill for District 3 supervisor in his race against incumbent Jerry Lenthall. That move upset a core group of about 35 DSA members.

“Adam is a liberal Democrat,” Strobridge said, “and law enforcement are conservative folks. Conservatives will buy you all the beans and bullets you need while the liberal side will see that you’re funded adequately with wages.”

When contacted Thursday, Hill said only that “It’s best for me to stay out of internal union business.”

Strobridge said another factor in the election’s outcome is that “many of the deputies at the department have only been on duty for four or five years and weren’t here during the prevailing wage litigation.”

The county and the DSA in 1998 settled on a prevailing wage formula based on comparative wages of various counties. Now, Strobridge said, the new union is not entitled to that settlement.