Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/23/2010 04:07:18 PM PST
SAN BERNARDINO – A fractured city employees group is awaiting an appeal of its vote to ditch its leadership and seek representation from another union.
The city’s general employees earlier this month voted 143-122 to dump the San Bernardino Public Employees Association and join the Pasadena-based chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Three voted for no union at all.
Parks maintenance employee Carla Velarde said the general employees grew increasingly frustrated with their leadership after years of what she described as poor representation.
Velarde said the San Bernardino Public Employees Association is in bed with the city because it also represents middle managers.
She said rank-and-file workers do not trust a union that represents the two groups at the same time.
“We asked for lawyers, we asked for support and we never got it,” Velarde said. “We want somebody to go in there that doesn’t represent the city and is not going to bow to them.”
But San Bernardino Public Employees Association general manager Bob Blough said the union never pits employees against employees, and it has never had a conflict of interest in representing employees in disputes with their employers.
Blough said the union has filed an appeal of the vote because the city interfered with the election.
“Part of the election agreement was that the city would distribute one flier for each side through the inter-city mailboxes, and they refused to distribute our fliers,” Blough said.
According to Blough, the city’s explanation was that the union’s fliers didn’t relate to the election.
“We don’t believe they had the right to make that determination,” Blough said.
He said 180 employees in the union did not vote and that it was likely because the fliers weren’t distributed.
The flier would have changed the outcome, he said.
“We believe the majority of the people in the unit didn’t want to leave,” Blough said. “We believe if the members had known the information in the flier, it would have influenced how they voted.”
Blough said there is no credence to the charge that because it represents the general employees and middle managers, the union – which represents workers in 28 cities and the county – has a conflict.
“I’ve heard the argument before,” he said, “but it’s not valid … because we have staff members that represent different levels of employees.”
Blough said the flap erupted mainly over the city imposing furloughs of 10percent of employees’ work time and pay as of Aug. 1.
Union leaders have maintained that general employees in the waste management division objected on the grounds that the city’s trash operation brings in money, whereas other city business has been subject to deep budget cuts because of declining tax revenues.
“The city unilaterally implemented what we believe are illegal furloughs and the refuse employees blamed SBPEA for allowing it to happen,” Blough said. “We’ve filed suit against the city and we’re in the process of getting back pay for those that are SBPEA members.”
Employees in difficult times tend to blame their union instead of their employers, Blough said.
Velarde said furloughs weren’t the issue that drove them to scrap their representation.
The San Bernardino Public Employees Association routinely neglects to return phone calls and doesn’t fight hard enough for the general employees, she said.
“It has nothing to do with (furloughs),…” Velarde said. “My whole department was threatened to be laid off during the last (budget process).”
George Swift, a coordinator for public service with the International Union of Operating Engineers, said the San Bernardino’s general employees sought out his union. The union represents heavy equipment operators, health care personnel and public sector employees in the United States and Canada.
“We didn’t come seeking them. They sought us because they were very upset with their representation,” Swift said.
The union does not represent management because it leads to a conflict of interest, Swift said.
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