CED on your side: Union activists boldly stand up in Monterey County

CED On Your Side
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Monterey County recently learned SEIU Local 521 union members will not stand by and let management retaliate against workers simply for supporting their union.

This case should serve as a reminder to all union members that we need to always stand up for our rights in the workplace.
— Gregg McWilliams, Steward, Monterey County Chapter

(Left to right) Antonia Garcia, Tony Velasquez and Gregg McWilliams outside the PERB offices in Oakland

Left to right: Antonia Garcia, Tony Velasquez and Gregg McWilliams outside the PERB offices in Oakland

In 2012, Tony Velasquez and Antonia Garcia both engaged in union activities, which are protected under the law. Public employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for supporting their union.

Tony and Antonia, who were both regarded as outstanding employees, wanted to help with an arbitration case involving a worker who had been terminated. They also signed a union petition to stop workplace bullying and intimidation tactics by management.

In Tony’s case, management interrogated him and refused to grant his request for a union representative. Tony was subsequently fired while serving a promotional probationary period.

After Antonia testified at an arbitration hearing for SEIU Local 521, management gave her the first negative evaluation she had ever received in nearly ten years of county employment.

Our Contract Enforcement Department worked with SEIU 521 stewards to file unfair practice charges with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).

For these alleged violations, PERB found enough cause to issue a complaint against Monterey County.

The resulting settlement compromise admits no fault by the county but restores Tony’s lost wages and clears the termination from his work record. Likewise, the county agreed to remove the negative evaluation from Antonia’s personnel file.

The county was also required to send the following reminder to employees:

“[A]n employee has a right to union representation when he/she reasonably believes the interview may result in disciplinary action, or if highly unusual circumstances lead the employee to believe that he/she needs the assistance of a union representative to provide advice and direction.”

Tony and Antonia both had the courage to exercise their right to be heard and advocate for change and worker protections. Every time a union member speaks up for what is right, management is put on notice that their actions are being watched. When many workers stand together, the likelihood of being retaliated against is far diminished. This is the lesson we need to learn going forward.

Contract Negotiation Update

Tony’s experience prompted his steward to push for improved protections in our Monterey County contract for workers when they serve a new probationary period after being promoted. During our 2013 negotiations, SEIU Local 521 and the county agreed that employees who are released from probation in a promotional class will now have the right to return to their former position, provided a vacancy exists and the employee held permanent status in the former postion. The county can deny returning an employee to his/her former class only if it can show just cause for discharge.

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