State says not so fast on [Kings] decertification

By Eiji Yamashita, the Hanford Sentinel

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011

Kings County leaders wanted to allow a decertification election that could have ejected a Service Employees International Union chapter from a local workplace in the middle of a contract and allowed another union to come in.

And they wanted it to start this week.

The state’s response: Not so fast.

The California Public Employ ment Relations Board (PERB) granted SEIU’s request for injunctive relief on Friday, temporarily halting the county’s plan to hold the union election.

No court-ordered injunction was issued, however, as the California State Mediation and Conciliation Service voluntarily complied with the state employment board’s request to hold off on the election until its administrative process is completed. Meanwhile, the board set a hearing for Friday in Sacramento.

The legal process was launched when SEIU filed a complaint against the county with the state board over the legality of allowing the decertification election.

Staying the election also means SEIU cleared a major initial hurdle in its challenge, said Kerianne Steele, an attorney for SEIU.

“PERB believes there was enough of a violation here that it did this remarkable thing of stopping an election from the beginning,” she said. “Their thinking is that there’s no fair election occurring in this environment.”

The ballots were originally scheduled to got out in the mail Tuesday.

In January, a majority of affected county employees signed a petition by Bill Shawhan to oust SEIU and join with the California League of City Employees Association (CLOCEA), a one-man union headed by Shawhan, a former SEIU contractor. But county supervisors denied the attempt then, citing county rules against allowing a change midway through a contract already signed with one union.

SEIU has a contract until December 2012.

But in July, the Board of Supervisors changed its policy, giving it the power to allow Shawhan to force an election right away rather than waiting until the contract expires.

SEIU alleges that’s a violation of state law.

“The county has amended its decertification rule in order to assist CLOCEA, and this is a violation of the duty of strict neutrality,” Steele said. “The county can usually amend its rules subject to certain requirements. Here, they are amending the rules only to assist a rival labor organization.”

Fifty-two percent of SEIU unit members signed a petition to decertify SEIU in late July.

Kings County’s chief legal counsel Colleen Carlson declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations, citing a policy not to discuss pending legal matter.

But Carlson said, “The county is acting in good faith.”

In its 214-page opposition filed Thursday in answer to SEIU’s injunctive relief request to PERB, the county defends itself, arguing that “there is no reasonable cause to believe the county committed an unfair labor practice.”

SEIU also alleges that the county interfered with its employees’ rights to speak to their union representatives by barring SEIU Local 521 officials from visiting members in break rooms.

In response, the county says the allegation has no merit because the county has a legitimate business reason for adopting reasonable rules limiting access to its human services and sheriff’s departments.

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