As SEIU 221 goes into its third month without a new contract with the County of San Diego, lots of people are asking “How can we get an election to switch to a better union?” The news that the County’s CM bargaining unit successfully voted to get out of SEIU and joined the new union, the Association of San Diego County Employees, has increased the amount of interest. Loco 221 will give you some of the basics. This article has information that is true in general, for all workers in the USA, but it also emphasizes details that apply especially to workers at the County of San Diego.
Anytime your union has an expired contract, you can file the official documents to get an election to vote on switching to another union. It can be a union that already exists (if they say they want your group) or it can be a new union that you form with your co-workers. It takes some work, but it is not that hard.
The most important thing you need to do to get started is to find the leaders/organizers in your group (your “bargaining unit”) and start organizing together ( 10 people talk to 10 people – 20 talk to 20 and so on). It is most important to do what the employees want, not what the organizers want. Too many times in history the leaders /organizers try to lead and no one follows. The reason was that they were not following the will of the people, only their own ego.
If you work in the private sector in the USA, then the official documents have to be filed with the NLRB — the National Labor Relations Board. If you work in the public sector, in California, then the official documents have to be filed with PERB — the Public Employment Relations Board. You can call them and ask for basic information on the steps involved. They have a lot of the information on their websites, and they will tell you where to find it.
Workers at the County of San Diego also have to follow steps and requirements that are spelled out in the County’s LRO — the Labor Relations Ordinance, even though the actual election is run by the state PERB. See especially Articles VI, VII, and VIII. But don’t ignore Articles III, IV, and V. Don’t panic. It’s not that complicated. People at PERB and people at the County’s Labor Relations office can explain some of the terms and how it all fits together. You can talk to people at groups like City Employees Associates to get practical campaign advice and help from a labor law attorney. They work with county workers and municipal workers throughout Southern California. Ask about their fees. There are other, similar groups you can find.
What is a “bargaining unit” (BU)? Union representation elections are held for groups of employees that have been legally identified as having certain common interests and traits. A BU might be only workers with one job title/classification or it can be a group of similar job titles combined together.
At the County of San Diego, an example is the Clerical (CL) BU. The CL unit has 50 separate job classifications. All of them would be included in the petition to file to get an election and in the actual voting. County of San Diego workers can find their BU by looking up their job classification (by its name) at the County’s Job Descriptions webpage. At the webpage, you click on your own job title, let’s say, Account Clerk, and the first line under your job’s Class Title is the line “Bargaining Unit”. Once you know your BU, you can find the full list of all the job titles that are in your BU at the County’s webpage that has all the union contracts (they’re called Memoranda of Agreement, or MOA’s). Click on the MOA that includes your BU and then scroll to the very end where it lists all the “Overtime Codes”. For each BU, the Overtime Codes chart shows the full list of job titles. Those are all the people you need to contact and organize and sign the petition to get an election to switch to another union.
At the County of San Diego, per the LRO, you have to get at least 35 percent of the people in the whole BU to sign the petition in order to get an election to switch to another union.
Pay attention to deadlines and timelines. An important one at the County of San Diego, per the LRO, is that none of the signatures on the petition for the representation election can be more than 4 months old. Another one sets out when you can file a petition to get an election, if your contract is NOT expired. It’s worth quoting, and short enough:
“A petition which includes employees covered by a Memorandum of Agreement which has been ratified by the unit and approved by the Board of Supervisors shall be filed no sooner than 240 days and no later than 210 days prior to the expiration of the Agreement. This bar shall only apply during the first two (2) years of a multi-year agreement.”
So, at the County, if you have a 1 or 2 year contract that is in effect, you have to follow the 240-210 day “filing window” rule. If you have a contract in effect that is for a term of more than 2 years, then at any time after the second year you can file a petition for an election. And, as we said at the start of this article, if your contract has expired, like the SEIU 221 contracts at the County are now expired, then you can file the petition at any time before a new contract goes into effect.
Here are some samples of the forms and petitions you have to file for a representation election to switch unions at the County of San Diego. All the “red” highlighted text has to be replaced with the name of your own bargaining unit, the name, address and phone number of the petition’s spokesperson (a County employee working in the BU), and the particular details of your own BU and number of signatures, etc. If you have permission from an existing union to petition for an election to join their union, you put in their appropriate name, address, etc. If you are forming your own new union, you use that information instead (be sure you have first met the requirements to be an officially registered employee organization).
Sample BU Representation_Petition
Sample sheet for petition signatures for a representation election
To join a different union or to form a new union, people need to sign the sheets for petition signatures to support the petition letter. The sample sheet that Loco 221 also contains language that meets the legal requirements for the “Authorization for Representation” cards. So, a person signing the petition support sheet also joins the new union at the same time.
You can have a union that actually does what the members tell it to do.
You don’t have to suffer forever with:
(1) bad contracts that are too “sweetheart” with your employer;
(2) and bad representation that blows off the rights in your contract and in the laws and that doesn’t protect you enough against abuses by your managers;
(3) and union officials that ignore you or lie to you, or rig your union elections for union officers, or re-write you union bylaws so that they can be interpreted any which way the union officials like;
(4) or all of the above.
A healthy, happy union life after you get rid of SEIU is possible!