SBPEA Mulls Merger With Teamsters As Survival Ploy

(February 12) In an effort to gain more muscle at the bargaining table and stave off further efforts to decertify it as the major union representing San Bernardino County government employees, the San Bernardino Public Employees Association is considering rechartering itself as an independent local of the Teamsters.
The San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which came into existence in 1938 as the representative of San Bernardino County and San Bernardino City employees, today handles collective bargaining for over 11,000 employees working for San Bernardino County and 3,000 others working for 16 of the county’s cities – Barstow, Big Bear, Chino, Chino Hills, Colton, Fontana, Hesperia, Loma Linda, Montclair, Needles, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Rialto, San Bernardino, and Upland, as well as three cities in east Los Angeles County, Claremont, Pomona and West Covina, and Banning in Riverside County.
For three quarters of a century, the San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA) had remained in a relatively secure position as the representative of the lion’s share of county workers, but beginning four years ago internal and external events and pressure have threatened to shatter the association.
Beginning in 2011, county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux began seeking across-the-board contract concessions from all of the county’s employee bargaining units to offset skyrocketing governmental operating costs and end what he termed an “institutional structural deficit” plaguing the county. Several of the county employee unions came to some form of terms or compromise with Devereaux, though not all were ready to accept the economies he proposed. Devereaux achieved a major breakthrough when he convinced the county firefighters union to agree to pick up the 7 percent the county had been paying into the firefighters’ retirement accounts and decrease their annual promotional increases from 5 percent to 2.5 percent. But the firefighters’ union had made those concessions conditional upon the other bargaining groups making concessions. In September 2012 SEBA, the Safety Employees Benefit Association, representing the county’s sheriff’s deputies, made contract concessions.
In April 2013, Devereuax imposed contract concessions on deputy prosecutors and public defenders.
In July 2013, SBPEA General Manager Bob Blough was abruptly terminated and rumors began to circulate to the effect that he was under investigation by the district attorney’s office.
In May 2014, two classes of county workers, nursing division supervisors and managers, accepted the county’s terms. The same month, SBPEA rejected the latest contract offered to the various classifications of county workers by the county. Of the 5,524 county employees who voted on the proposal, known as a tentative agreement, 3,523 voted no. The other 2,001 members of the San Bernardino Public Employees Association who are employed by the county who participated in the vote cast ballots of acceptance. Some 7,000 county employees represented by the union did not participate in the vote.
The May 2014 vote came amidst a secession move by a relatively small but vocal portion of county workers represented by SBPEA members. They expressed dissatisfaction with SBPEA’s efforts in representing them in contract talks with the county, urging their fellow union members to reject the contract Devereaux was proposing, while seeking a special election to decertify the San Bernardino Public Employees Association as the county general line employees’ representative and instead installing Service Employees International Union Local 721 as their bargaining unit.
That push did not succeed and SBPEA retaliated against the dissidents by expelling those members advocating the change and obtaining a restraining order against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in June 2014, effectively ending SEIU’s ability to lobby SBPEA members.
The San Bernardino Public Employees Association’s reputation further eroded in October, when SBPEA officials disclosed that an audit indicated that between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013, a total of $595,444.82 in cash received by SBPEA was missing because it was never deposited into SBPEA’s bank account and was not in SBPEA’s safe. It was revealed that former general manager Blough appeared to have absconded with the money. The audit was provided to the district attorney’s office, which was asked to double down on its criminal investigation of Blough. That same month, the San Bernardino Public Employees Association filed a lawsuit against Blough in San Bernardino Superior Court seeking return of the missing money and lawyers’ fees.
Faced with a growing perception by many of its members that the union is ineffectual, SBPEA this week, on February 11, announced it has scheduled a vote for later this month on whether members will consent to becoming an independent local of the Teamsters.
“Affiliation with the Teamsters will strengthen our position at the bargaining table to achieve better contracts for all members,” according to the announcement. “Affiliation will allow us to fully engage in the political process on the state and local levels for… overall benefit.”
That announcement, posted on the SBPEA websites said that while the association has cut an effective swathe as an independent union for the length of its existence, the current political and circumstantial context makes affiliation with the Teamsters propitious.
“Local politicians have targeted our wages, benefits and pensions. We need to fight back to save our way of life,” the website states. “If we do not evolve and progress, we may lose it all. Affiliation will give us the support and the backing of an organization that has 1.4 million union members nationally and 140,000 locally.”

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