The third time was a charm for dissatisfied members of Fresno County’s Service Employees International Union, who won a decertification vote Wednesday.
Fresno County’s largest union was rejected by the group that will form the Fresno County Public Safety Association.
The group, which represents correctional officers in Fresno County Jail, the Juvenile Justice Center, child support workers, security officers and technicians, represents about 880 members, said Eulalio Gomez, leader of the decertification effort. The new organization won by a 319-228 tally, which is unofficial.
“We did it by word-of-mouth and our own internal network of employees,” Gomez said. “I’m really proud of these guys, they really got out and voted.”
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It was third time in four years that Gomez has tried to separate his group from the larger union. The last time, in late 2013, Gomez’s breakaway group lost by 44 votes, he said.
He said members of his unit were growing increasingly concerned about SEIU’s funding of social justice programs, which he said strays from the mission of worker representation.
The group’s focus would be solely on wages and benefits, not political, cultural or social agenda-oriented issues. Gomez, who has worked for the county nearly 24 years, said political and social agendas have become too much a part of SEIU.
Gomez said members will see lower rates for their union membership, because no money will be used for political issues.
We did it by word-of-mouth and our own internal network of employees
Eulalio Gomez, leader in SEIU decertification effort
Riley Talford, a shop steward for SEIU, said the election still needs to be certified and that members of the group continued being represented by the union. He said the union will still represent more than 3,500 other employees if the decertification is approved.
“The other side has been trying to get at us for a long time,” Talford said.
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Bob Winebrenner, a juvenile corrections officer, said the vote will be appealed by SEIU.
“There were serious errors committed throughout the election and SEIU Local 521 will be challenging the results with the Public Employment Relations Board,” he said. “We believe every worker’s vote needs to count and we believe our members deserve a fair election that follows labor election guidelines.”
Gomez said he expected a challenge.
A leader in another unit said he also is seeking to decertify SEIU and create a separate bargaining unit.
Michael Vasquez, a 23-year employee and former SEIU vice president, is part of the unit that represents about 500 benefit eligibility workers, social workers and job specialists.
He said SEIU’s opposition to financial investment in Israel, support for Planned Parenthood and involvement in protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have upset union members who may not agree with those positions or who want the union to be more about labor representation.
“We can do a better job,” Vasquez said. “We can follow the template set today by Eulalio’s group.”
Last month, SEIU members approved a 9 percent raise over the next two years. A 5 percent raise went into effect last month. It will be followed by a 1.5 percent raise in July 2016 and a 2.5 percent increase in July 2017.
It will likely take a few weeks, but the change in certification is required to go to the state. Once approved, dues will be forwarded to the new unit, Gomez said.