10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, July 17, 2011

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Service Employees International Union Local 721 has won an injunction against Riverside County, preventing the involuntary transfer of its chief labor negotiator.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips in late June is part of a lawsuit the union and labor negotiator Wendy Thomas filed in December.

The complaint accuses county management of retaliating against Thomas, a 911 communications specialist in the Sheriff’s Department, for her union activities.

Among other issues, she was transferred three times in two years, according to the union.

The county has denied the accusations and contends the union is using unfair tactics to avoid pension reform and other money-saving cuts.

While the lawsuit continues to work its way through court, Phillips’ decision prohibits the county from involuntarily transferring Thomas to other positions, shifts or work locations.

It also bars the county from ordering Thomas not to discuss union-related activities and from enforcing any internal affairs investigations against her.

“The order clearly shows we prevailed enough in the case to get relief in this early stage,” said Alan Crowley, an attorney for the union and Thomas.

With the order, other employees will “feel more comfortable attending rallies or coming to meetings,” Crowley said. “That is the reason we filed the lawsuit.”

But Riverside County also is counting the decision as a win.

SEIU had sought to prevent the county from doing far more, but Phillips denied those requests.

The union wanted to block the county from “discriminating and retaliating against SEIU members for exercising their First Amendment rights to participate in union activities.”

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