Predominant County Government Employee Union Affiliates With Teamsters

(April 26) The San Bernardino Public Employees Association is now affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  With just one quarter of its members voting, the association last month entered into an affiliation with Teamsters Local 1932.
The San Bernardino Public Employees Association came into existence in 1938 as the representative of San Bernardino County and San Bernardino City employees.  Today it handles collective bargaining for over 13,000 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 threatened to shatter the association.
Last year a contingent of SBPEA members dissatisfied with the association’s leadership urged their fellow union members to reject the contract County Chief Executive Officer Greg 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.
Despite the injunction the association obtained against SEIU and SEIU agitators, a vote of SBPEA’s professional unit vote was forced in February, in which those members were polled on whether they wanted to keep SBPEA as their representative or bring in SEIU.  As a consequence of that vote the San Bernardino Public Employees Association was decertified as the labor representative for the more than 800 county employees defined as working within the professional unit in favor of the Service Employees International Union.  The professional unit is composed of licensed professionals, including social workers, engineers, physical therapists and nutritionists. The California State Mediator’s Office, to which counting of the ballots had been entrusted, announced in March that in the final tally, SEIU affiliation was favored by 441 of those who participated in the vote, while staying with SBPEA was supported by 137. Thirteen cast votes for no representation. More than 200 of those eligible to vote did not participate. That was followed by yet another defection from SBPEA as 671 of the association’s members working within the San Bernardino County Superior Court system also jumped to the Service Employees International Union last month.
Even before the professional unit’s change to SEIU was voted upon, the SBPEA board and SBPEA General Manager Deidre Rodriguez, reading the writing on the wall, began casting about for a way to reverse the apparent slide toward the decertification of the association altogether.
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.
With 4,084 of its members participating on the proposal to alter the union’s bylaws to stipulate Teamsters affiliation, 3,113 voted “yes” and 1,971 voted “no ” to a tentative affiliation that is to last four years, during which time SBPEA can opt out of the agreement. Under the terms ratified with the vote, the affiliation becomes permanent after four years elapses.
There had been a contingent within the association adamantly opposed to affiliating with the Teamsters. In addition, there were members dissatisfied with the current SBPEA board. A small but vocal minority of those lobbied against the association affiliating with the Teamsters, asserting that the link with the Teamsters would virtually lock in the current set of union bosses.
The current San Bernardino Public Employee Association board hailed the vote as a positive development that would prevent further erosion of the SBPEA’s position and leverage as a bargaining unit. In recent years, as Devereaux sought 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. This had spread dissension in the ranks of county employees who were not ready to accept the proposed economies and reductions or were unbelieving of the county’s assertions that it had fallen on hard financial times.
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said the decision by SBPEA’s members to affiliate with his organization would allow the government workers the association represents “to have a more secure future. The Teamsters have the resources, expertise and clout to negotiate the strongest contracts possible. This vote shows that San Bernardino County public employees understand this and want Teamster power at the bargaining table.”

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