SBPEA Board Pushing Teamster Affiliation

(March 12) The San Bernardino Public Employees Association began sending out mail ballots to its members on Thursday to ascertain if a majority of them are in favor of affiliating with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The push to form an alliance with the Teamsters is led primarily by the association’s board, which has drafted a 9-page affiliation agreement. The board and association president Deidre Rodriguez have been reeling and trying to regroup ever since a secession effort last spring by dissident association members. The dissidents expressed dissatisfaction with the San Bernardino Public Employees Association’s efforts in representing them in contract talks with the county. 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 scored a major coup when he convinced the county firefighters’ union to pick up the percentage of employee contributions the county had been paying into the workers’ retirement accounts and accept reduced annual promotional increases. In September 2012 the Safety Employees Benefit Association, a separate union representing the county’s sheriff’s deputies, made contract concessions. In April 2013, Devereuax imposed contract concessions on deputy prosecutors and public defenders, who have their own union as well.
In July 2013, San Bernardino Public Employee Association (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.
Last year the contingent of SBPEA members dissatisfied with the association’s leadership urged 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. They instead sought to install Service Employees International Union Local 721 as their bargaining unit. Their effort did not succeed, and SBPEA’s leadership 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.
On February 11, the SBPEA board informed the association’s membership an affiliation with the Teamsters was under consideration, asserting such an affiliation with the Teamsters would increase SBPEA’s leverage at the bargaining table. There is a contingent within the association adamantly opposed to affiliating with the Teamsters. Some dissatisfaction with the current SBPEA board exists and the move to associate with the Teamsters would virtually lock in the current set of union bosses, some members believe.
The association’s internal financial picture is somewhat shaky, and the current board and president now say that some $700,000 that went missing or is unaccounted for was embezzled by former general manager Blough, whom the association is now suing. Blough has denied the association’s allegations in a response filed with the court.
What is unclear at this point is whether the affiliation with the Teamsters would result in an increase in union dues. As it currently stands, SBPEA is entitled to dues equal to no more than 1.3 percent of a member’s salary. Language in the affiliation agreement is ambiguous and contradictory on whether that dues figure would remain at 1.3 percent, which is suggested in one section of the document, or would increase to 2.3 percent, as is required of all Teamster’s members according to the Teamster charter, and which is suggested in another passage in the proposed affiliation agreement.
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 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. Despite the injunction the association obtained against SEIU and SEIU agitators last year, a vote of SBPEA’s professional unit vote was forced last month, in which those members were polled on whether they wanted to keep SBPEA as their representative or bring in SEIU. The results of that vote are not publicly known at this time and a count by the State Mediation and Conciliation Service is to begin on March 16.
The association’s leadership has expressed confidence a majority of the membership will reject SEIU, but have indicated SBPEA becoming an independent local of the Teamsters is desirable. “Local politicians have targeted our wages, benefits and pensions. We need to fight back to save our way of life,” SBPEA posted on its website last month. “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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