Death by 1,000 Cuts

Thursday, March 19, 2015 – 11:00 a.m.

The union representing the largest block of San Bernardino County employees is dying a death by a thousand cuts.

The Professional Unit of the San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA) has chosen to be represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Of the ballots cast, a resounding seventy-seven percent, of the unit members voting, chose to leave.

SBPEA immediately looses more than 800 dues payers.

Members of the beleaguered union have, for decades, been subjected to essentially no collective bargaining, and even more importantly, no effective disciplinary representation.

Since the late 1990’s, SBPEA has lost chunks of its membership to other unions. It’s a trend that is likely to continue.

The latest decertification vote comes amidst an SBPEA plan to affiliate with the Teamsters International Union. By “affiliation” with an AFL-CIO union, SBPEA, in essence, does nothing more than protect itself from raids by AFL-CIO unions like SEIU.

Let me be clear. SBPEA will remain as it is. The Teamsters will not takeover. SBPEA members will simply pay additional money to the Teamsters in order for SBPEA leadership and paid staff to keep their jobs.

Look at it as a form of paying for protection. In other words pay us and we won’t keep raiding your membership ranks. SBPEA members, on the other hand, will see no other difference. They’ll keep their same union leadership and board of directors, with the need for self-preservation now trumping what’s best for SBPEA membershp.

Turning around a union takes much effort and reform. Take it from me. I know.

I assumed the presidency of the Safety Employees Benefit Association (SEBA) in 1997. At the time, it was ugly. The union, which had a history of being weak, was decimated by my predecessor. Tit-for-tat political backscratching between the union, the county and the Sheriff’s department was commonplace. The represented employees were some of the most under-compensated in the Inland Empire.

It took a year to stop the slide, and any further damage from happening.

Then it took another two years to put in place real political action efforts and other reforms, more importantly safeguards, to build the organization into a successful respected group.

“We” increased membership size and obtained fair and reasonable compensation for county law enforcement. But more importantly, we protected our members right’s and enforced contracts and laws.

However, what took years to build was easily torn down by a return to self-service, self-preservation and political backscratching. SEBA nows suffers the same as SBPEA.

I hear the complaints all the time. It’s back to the way it was and, in some cases, it’s much worse.

Prior SEBA leaders either capitalized on their knowledge of dirty laundry to promote themselves within the department, or they didn’t know how.

Believe me. One could write a tell-all book, and more.

Back to SBPEA.

The union leadership has no intention, desire or willpower to change its colors. Frankly, they don’t know how.

I can recall the days of former General Manager Bob Elliott, in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Elliott routinely ran around drinking with county management and politicians, and SBPEA members paid the price, via low wages and health benefits.

Will anything really change?

The answer: Probably not!