CED on your side: Steward defends the rights of his co-workers

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Management learns the hard way that it must bargain changes to working hours

Peter Kwiek and Jess Barreras

From L to R: Peter Kwiek and Jess Barreras after the arbitration hearing on September 10, 2013.

When the new head of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency announced that employees would no longer be allowed to work flexible schedules, SEIU Steward Peter Kwiek challenged the unilateral change and won a favorable settlement for his co-workers.

Before July 2012, the Agency had given employees the flexibility of working alternative schedules, such as four 10-hour days per week, also known as 4/10’s. When Peter organized a delegation of workers to question the General Manager about his reasons for the change, they were given little in the way of explanation. As far as we could tell, there was no evidence that 4/10 schedules had negatively impacted the agency.

After we filed our grievance, the General Manager repeatedly asserted that the “management rights” clause of our MOU gives him the right to eliminate 4/10 schedules, and that he has no duty to meet and confer with the Union over his decision. Actually, state law does require public employers to bargain over changes to working hours, unless a union has waived its right to bargain. For employees in Bargaining Unit J, our MOU does not waive our right to bargain over work schedule changes.

On September 10, four executive managers showed up at the grievance arbitration. In a bizarre reversal, they actually told the arbitrator that flexible schedules had not been eliminated, despite their previous admissions, in writing, that all 4/10 schedules were unilaterally rescinded.

To resolve the dispute, Peter and the agency director signed a settlement agreement that restores the flexible schedules of affected employees and acknowledges that the Agency is obligated to meet and confer with us before implementing any decision to eliminate flexible schedules.

The outcome of this grievance has reaffirmed our belief that many administrators are deficient when it comes to understanding the principles of labor relations and their obligations to bargain, which are inherent in union contracts. An expensive arbitration hearing is not the right place for managers to learn these lessons. If they would have simply met and conferred with us a year ago before imposing the change, it would have avoided all this expense. But until the Board of Supervisors trains their managers to understand and abide by our rights as a union, Monterey County will continue to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on legal fees when we are forced to educate them ourselves through the grievance
process.

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