Kings County settles 521 complaint, delays election

By Eiji Yamashita

Hanford Sentinel

Oct. 15, 2011

A union showdown for Kings County’s rank-and-file workers could be looming, but it will wait until July of next year.

If and when it happens, it will be a vote by some 800 workers on whether to oust a labor giant in favor of an upstart rival headed by a local union representative.

Kings County leaders have settled a legal dispute with the Service Employees International Union by agreeing to comply with a state administrative law judge’s proposed decision and wait another year to hold a decertification election.

In exchange, the union has agreed to drop the unfair practice charge filed with a state labor agency this summer. The settlement gave SEIU what it wanted, while giving the county means to prevent SEIU representatives from overstepping the county’s access privilege rules in some facilities.

The case stems from a county action in August to allow a decertification election that could have ejected SEIU Local 521 from a local workplace in the middle of a contract and allowed the California League of City Employees Association to come in.

When a majority of employees expressed their wish to switch to the new union in March, the Board of Supervisors first denied it. But the board in June changed a decertification window in its employee relations policy to accommodate the association’s wish.

SEIU cried foul and filed a complaint that alleged violations of state law. The county’s plan was subsequently halted in September when the California Public Employment Relations Board granted the union’s request for injunctive relief.

The settlement comes after an administrative law judge issued a proposed decision on Sept. 28 in favor of SEIU, finding that the county action – in relation to the decertification issue – was illegal.

“By providing CLOCEA the opportunity to have an election almost one year early, [supervisors] conferred a tangible benefit upon CLOCEA,” Chief Administrative Law Judge Shawn Cloughesy said in his proposed decision. “Such [action], whether intended or not, gives the impression that CLOCEA has more favor with the [board] …”

Supervisors announced the settlement out of a closed session on Tuesday.

“The board did exactly what they should do,” said Bill Shawhan, general manager of CLOCEA. “They should not have appealed, because it would have cost them another $50,000 to $100,000.”

Pro-SEIU members of the bargaining unit also welcomed the supervisors’ decision.

Dinah McVay, a department specialist for the human services agency, said she hopes the settlement will help employees put the disagreements behind them. Nearly 77 percent of unit employees signed the initial petition for a decertification election in January and 53 percent the second time in August.

McVay supports SEIU because she finds it more reliable and resourceful after speaking with both unions.

“I really hope that everybody gets on board together to make Kings County a better place for all of us to work,” she said.

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