Santa Cruz County Loses Challenge to Stewards’ Release Time

Jim Heaney

County management’s efforts to limit our right to release time for union stewards proved unsuccessful, according to a recent arbitration decision, which you can read here.

In 2016, SEIU designated Chief Steward Jim Heaney to represent a county employee in an arbitration appeal of a disciplinary action. Our contract gives stewards like Jim the right to represent co-workers on work time without loss of pay, also known as “release time.” California labor laws also provide employer-paid release time for union activities in certain circumstances.

When Ajita Patel, Deputy Director of Personnel, forced Jim to use his vacation accruals to represent our member, SEIU filed a grievance and took it to arbitration. At the arbitration hearing, the County’s lawyer offered several different explanations for denying Jim’s release time, arguing that he already spends too much time in negotiations, that his workload would be impacted, and that release time does not extend to disciplinary appeals. In the end, the arbitrator didn’t buy it, and she ordered the County to restore Jim’s vacation accruals.

“This is a win for all stewards in Santa Cruz County, but it’s not over,” said Jim. “Management is still acting unreasonably in their desire to control who we designate as our union representatives.”

Remarkably, two days after receiving the arbitrator’s decision, Patel informed us that the County will not authorize release time for Jim to attend an arbitration hearing in an appeal of findings made by the County’s EEO officer. Because this issue is so important in the face of “right-to-work” laws threatening our ability to effectively represent our members, management is leaving us with little choice but to pursue yet another grievance against them to defend our stewards’ right to release time.

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