Supervisors allow union vote

In a blow to the county’s largest public employee union, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday allowed an election that could clear the way for new labor representation for 180 county workers.

In a unanimous vote, the board said the county’s trades and crafts unit can hold an election to decide who they want to speak for them in bargaining for salaries and benefits.

Trades and crafts members had petitioned for the right to such an election early this year, but the organization that currently represents them, the San Luis Obispo County Employees Association, fought the move.

SLOCEA represents about 1,400 members in five bargaining units. The county has 2,400 employees. Should the trades and crafts unit form a different union, it would represent about 13 percent of SLOCEA’s current membership.

The board’s decision Tuesday merely clears the way for an election. Trades and crafts workers could elect to stay in SLOCEA; go to another union that seeks to represent them, the San Luis Obispo Government Employees Association; or opt for no union representation.

Tami Douglas-Schatz, the county’s management representative in labor negotiations and its human resources director, said Tuesday that the county is still working out a timeline for the election, but she vowed to conduct one “as soon as administratively possible.”

SLOCEA fought vigorously against holding an election. Its attorney, Dennis Hayes of San Diego, argued that the process leading to the election was flawed in numerous ways. The breakaway group missed deadlines, turned in applications with flawed signatures and erred in many other ways, he said.

For example, he said, some of those who sought to decertify SLOCEA signed a petition that did not mention SLOCEA by name but instead referred to it as the “incumbent” employee organization.

Supervisor Frank Mecham, however, told Hayes he found it “very, very difficult to believe (that) people didn’t know what they were signing.”

Supervisor Adam Hill said Hayes’ objections “ultimately amount to technicalities.” He said supervisors should “allow them the democratic right to vote.”

Supervisors concurred on a 5-0 vote.

The move comes as SLOCEA deals with friction among some members about the way union leaders handled recent elections and conducted personnel changes within the SLOCEA office.

The trades and crafts unit’s move follows the breakup of the county Deputy Sheriffs Association into two unions.

And it comes at a time during which public employee unions are under fire because of a public perception that their members are better off than workers in the private sector, as the national and local economies continue to struggle.