5/22/08

IBEW trounced in Indiana

Sheriff's department rejects bid to unionize

Allen County (IN) Sheriff’s Department employees easily defeated a measure Tuesday that would have unionized the department. More than 300 of the 342 eligible sheriff’s department employees cast a vote to determine whether the department’s civilian staff and sworn officers should organize. A “yes” vote would have allowed the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to represent them in collective bargaining with the county.

Employees rejected the measure 245 to 58, said Bruce Getts, business manager for the IBEW, Local 723.

“I think there was a certain contingent of people that have been a part of this from the beginning, and I think the remainder was dedicated to the sheriff and his command,” Getts said. “You have to appreciate that loyalty and dedication in a police department.”

Getts said there is no plan to pursue the issue further; the law allows members of the department to vote again on a union in two years.

Sheriff Ken Fries said he was pleased with the results and saw it as recognition by employees that he has produced on promises made during his campaign.

“I think the employees realize that I am looking out for their best interest and that I will always value them,” Fries said. “They are the greatest asset we have, … and being on the department as long as I have, I realize what is important to us as employees.”

No problems were reported with the paper-ballot voting.

Voting began at 5 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. Employees could vote at the Kidder Building on Lima Road, where most detectives and patrol officers work, at the Allen County Courthouse and the Allen County Jail.

A few confinement officers stopped inside the jail commander’s reception area Tuesday afternoon to vote before going home for the day. Barry Butcher was one of them.

He voted against the move to unionize because he didn’t believe the IBEW was the right group to represent sheriff’s employees, Butcher said.

Court security employee Dan Hudson voted during his shift Tuesday afternoon. Although he declined to say how he voted, he could see positives regardless of which way the election turned out, Hudson said.

He likes the idea of both sides having a say in working conditions and benefits. But he also understands that paying union dues could be a burden for some employees, Hudson said.

Union dues seemed to be a sticking point for some employees in the lead-up to the election, Getts said.

Employees could opt not to pay dues and wouldn’t be required to join the union. Rules regarding who would pay dues could be included in the first contract, which all employees could vote on, Getts said.

The Local 723 sets its dues based on wage rates. Had the employees supported the union move, the sheriff’s employees would have paid between $40 and $55 a month depending on how much they earn, Getts said.

Issues union representatives believed they could help the staff address included pay disparity between the sheriff’s department and the Fort Wayne Police Department and safety inside the jail.

They also had hoped to improve the county’s grievance procedures.

“They just really don’t have a meaningful voice in the workplace,” Getts had said previously.

But Fries has contended that he has made significant improvements since he took office in 2007 and that union representation isn’t needed.

Confinement officers have new stab vests and stun guns available to use in the jail. He also touted the pay increases he helped persuade the County Council to give jailers, dispatchers and sworn officers.

Fries has pledged to ask for additional pay increases again this budget season to help keep par with increased cost of living and their counterparts at the city.

(journalgazette.net)

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