Fresno County loses jailer case at state employment board

The Fresno BeeJune 23, 2014 

State labor officials have told Fresno County contract negotiators that they skipped a step when imposing 12-hour shifts on employees in the Fresno County Jail and ordered them back to the negotiating table.

The state Public Employment Relations Board ruled last week that the county should have entered a "fact-finding" process with union negotiators before the 12-hour shifts were imposed on 60 workers last year.

In addition, two specialized job assignments -- affecting about 50 employees -- were exempt from seniority rules without the approval of Service Employees International Union members.

Public Employment Relations Board officials said the county's "unilateral implementation" of the new rules amounted to an impasse declaration last October, even though neither side declared impasse and union officials thought negotiations would continue.

It was the second time in a month that the agency ruled against the county.

County officials said a court ruling last year allowed them to unilaterally act on single-issue matters such as those involving the correctional employees.

The Service Employees International Union represents about 420 jail workers and correctional officers. The union had previously agreed that 210 employees would work the longer shifts.

But when the county expanded the 12-hour shifts unilaterally, the union appealed to the state agency.

An administrative law judge for the employment board told the county to return to the negotiating table. Fresno County officials appealed the judge's ruling to the full Public Employment Relations Board. The board last week affirmed the judge's decision.

In another county case, an administrative law judge for the board concluded last month that the county improperly imposed a salary cut of 9% or more on the Fresno County Prosecutors' Association. Prosecutors' representatives estimate that repaying the 100 prosecutors could cost the county about $2 million. The county is weighing an appeal to the full board.

SEIU has still another complaint pending before the state board over similar salary cuts for more than 4,500 county workers that union officials say could cost the county about $100 million.

In its latest ruling, the state employment board said its decision does "not dictate a particular outcome to the underlying bargaining dispute" over the 12-hour shifts and seniority issues. But the board directed both sides to sit down and hash out the issues.

Tom Abshere, SEIU Local 521's regional director, said the county imposed the work rules without either side declaring an impasse in negotiations. The union contends that work rules that dictate hours and pay should be negotiated, and then must be voted on by its members.

County officials contend that a ruling in Riverside County limits the state board's jurisdiction on individual issues, such as work hours. The employment relations board can only intervene on entirely new or renewed contracts, the county said.

"Superior courts in Riverside and San Diego counties have held that PERB's position -- that fact-finding is required on single issues -- is clearly erroneous," said Beth Bandy, Fresno County's director of personnel services.

Public Employment Relations Board officials don't see it that way. The board has appealed the Riverside decision and doesn't consider the ruling valid until it's finalized at appeal. In the meantime, the union has a right to file for fact-finding under existing state rules, the employment board said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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