Disenfranchised county workers outraged by union's tactics

An "underhanded" and "sneaky" election process deprived dozens of Nevada County employees the right to vote in a recent election that made union membership - and union dues - mandatory, the workers charged Monday. A group of 35 angry workers voiced confusion and outrage over the August election in a meeting at the Eric W. Rood Administrative Center in Nevada City, saying they never saw the notices of the impending vote.

So far, county employees have received one check with the new membership fees of $40 deducted. About 640 people are in the two bargaining units affected by the vote, and slightly more than half were union members before the vote, an affected employee said.

"It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. It was just kind of snuck in," said Mike Sherman, an employee in the welfare department who didn't hear of the election until after ballots were cast. "I object to unions. I absolutely have no say where the money goes," said Gerry Schwede, who has worked as a county mental health therapist for five years.

But the International Union of Operating Engineers, Stationary Local No. 39, acted according to state law by giving five days notice of the election, said Bob Losik, a representative from the state Mediation and Conciliation Service.

For 23 years, county workers have contracted with IUOE, but this is the first time they have voted for mandatory membership, said Gary Winegar, a business representative for Local No. 39.

Before the election, nonmembers weren't paying their "fair share" and were "getting a free ride," Winegar said. Workers who disagreed targeted Winegar with angry outbursts before he left, citing negotiation appointments in another county.

Obscure posting?

State law requires posting election dates in a conspicuous place five days prior to an election, Losik said.

Notice of the election was posted on the county's cafeteria bulletin board on Aug. 10, a Friday. The election followed on Wednesday, Aug. 15.

Winegar sent e-mail notices to people reminding them to "vote for agency shop," according to a message made available to The Union; some anti-union workers commented during the meeting that they did not receive the e-mail notification.

An agency shop, also called a union shop, is a place of employment where workers must pay union dues whether they are a member of a labor union or not.

Disgruntled workers argued the posting on the cafeteria bulletin board over the weekend does not constitute proper notification. The five days of required posting should not include the weekends, when most employees don't work. Workers from the library, the county animal shelter and mental health departments said they saw no notice of an election in their workplaces - and didn't vote.

Others said they don't read the cafeteria bulletin board. Some said they heard of the election through word-of-mouth, but were told it was only for union members.

Prior to the election, about 340 out of 640 people in the bargaining units for professional and miscellaneous employees were union members, said Claire Tallman, an information systems analyst affected by the change. August's election requires all of them to pay union dues regardless of whether a person wants to join the union, Tallman said.

The county employs about 900 people. Law enforcement and managers fall under different union categories, Tallman said.

Workers "disenfranchised"

Several county workers have filed an objection to the election with the State Supervisor of Elections and have sent letters to the county and a union representative from Auburn.

"We feel that the majority of the employees have been disenfranchised by the deception of a flawed and possibly illegal process for conducting a binding vote," wrote Marc Mikan, an employee of the county roads department in a letter to Winegar and county Human Resource Director Gayle Satchwell.

State code requires the county to follow mediators' direction for an election and posting notices, but must maintain a distance from union issues, county personnel director Satchwell said.

"We've been advised to stay out of this issue altogether because it's not a county issue, Satchwell said.


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