Labor-state features tiny bargaining units

Umatilla County (OR) Commissioners could be facing additional arbitration now that employee groups are looking into forming two separate unions. There are three established unions among county workers. Twelve supervisory employees at the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office and five of the seven deputy district attorneys in the D.A.'s office are considering forming two different unions.

The county's leaders are hesitant to add two unions to the three they already deal with, at least not without going through proper procedures, commissioners said during Tuesday's administrative meeting.

"We need to understand better what we're getting into with this," said Commissioner Dennis Doherty.

At the Sheriff's Office:

Connie Caplinger, executive assistant to the Board of Commissioners, said the sheriff's office supervisory employees have applied to be received as an association.

Akin Blitz, a labor attorney of Portland, has filed paperwork on the county's behalf to oppose this action.

Jim Barrow, county human resources director, said there may be a problem because traditionally these supervisory employees - including lieutenants and the undersheriff - sit in on negotiations with the sheriff and other unions.

Sheriff John Trumbo said he believes the desire for a union came up after the law enforcement association union arbitrated for better wages for regular employees. That closed the wage gap between those employees and the supervisors, according to Trumbo. He said, for example, some employees working in the jail make more than their supervisors.

Trumbo said he wasn't opposed to a union, but he didn't want to see them bargaining for anything other than wages and benefits.

Commissioners Doherty and Bill Hansell warned Trumbo he may not be able to decide what is and is not allowed for bargaining.

"You won't have a choice," Doherty said.

"What they choose to bargain for is on the table," said Barrow. "We don't control what they bargain for."

At the District Attorney's Office:

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) had previously asked the commissioners to voluntarily accept the deputy district attorneys request to organize without going through the complicated legal processes.

AFSCME legal council Jason Weyand came to the commissioners meeting Tuesday afternoon expecting acceptance.

Instead he got a surprise.

Commissioners were hesitant to accept the organization without knowing the effect on the county. They said they wanted the deputy district attorneys go through the proper channels.

"Go ahead and apply," Hansell said. "Then we'll determine the extent to which we agree or disagree."

Weyand said he was disappointed. He said he came expecting a show of good faith from the commissioners.

"I don't see why the county isn't willing to do the right thing," he said.

Weyand said five of the seven deputy district attorneys have agreed to form a union. Chief among concerns, he said, was wages.

"This is a result of a lot of years of other district attorney offices getting more wage increases," Weyand said.

He said Umatilla County ranked 35th or 36th out of Oregon's 36 counties in terms of wages.

"We have the lowest-paid department," he said. "In this case, our folks just want to be paid what they're worth."

The commissioners, Weyand and District Attorney Dean Gushwa agreed they didn't want union formation to result in a chance of a strike by deputy district attorneys.

"I don't know how you would shut the courts down," Weyand said. "You'd have people released from the jail if they're not arraigned on time."

Gushwa said that knowing each deputy district attorney personally, he doubted they would go on strike.

"I've got to believe that situation would never arise," he said. "I'd do whatever I have to to make sure."

"The bottom line is public interests, public safety and public policies," Doherty said. "Until we understand the ramifications, we want to think through and get into what it means for our county."


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