SEIU seized by low morale

Fed up with perceived management misconduct, Alameda County (CA) Water District employees are requesting district officials sign an employee "Bill of Rights." The one-page document asks managers to "put an end to favoritism" and "treat (workers) with dignity."

"Never before, in the 22 years I've been here, have I seen such widespread low morale," Leland Turner said at the district's board meeting Thursday. Michelle Strickland, a customer service worker, told board members that employees have been forced to write essays as punishment for mistakes. "We are disciplined as if we are children," she said.

Board members said they planned to meet next month to discuss the union's concerns.

"To the extent that we can address issues in an appropriate manner, we will," Trustee John Weed said.

The 55 employees attending Thursday's meeting are members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, which represents about 140 district workers.

The union's action comes amid negotiations with the district on a new contract, as well as a decertification effort by some members to leave SEIU and join the Operating Engineers, Local 3.

One of the union's biggest gripes is a contract issue — the lack of "paid fatigue time" for utility workers.

The employees sometimes must work emergency shifts that can last more than 24 hours. While they get paid overtime for the work, they don't accumulate paid time off.

So if they want to take off the day after a marathon shift, they either haveto take it unpaid, or use vacation time or sick time.

Several utility workers said morale deteriorated in their department last year when one of their co-workers, Kimball Hollins, was fired.

Paul Lopez, a utility worker, said that he has faced retaliation since testifying that a supervisor had used a racial slur against Hollins, who is African American.

Lopez said he no longer is permitted to find co-workers able to cover for him when emergency work is required.

"Some people can do what they want and some people are under scrutiny no matter what they do," Lopez said.

However, water district General Manager Paul Piraino disagreed.

"We don't retaliate against people," he said. He wouldn't comment specifically on Lopez's allegations because Lopez has filed a grievance with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As for other issues, Piraino said the district is open to addressing the union's concerns.

"If that's the way they feel, we need to find out exactly what the pressure points are and deal with them in a constructive and collaborate fashion," he said.

Piraino said the district already has ended the practice of making customer-service representatives write essays about mistakes.

"That's not something we thought was the best approach to dealing with work unit," he said.


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