Public sector workers in California won a major victory this month, thanks in large part to the work of the USW.
Late last year, an administrative law judge sided with the USW on a case involving a decertification effort at Oak Valley Hospital District in Oakdale, Calif.
The 220 members of Local 12-911 remained in the union, but there was still a concern that the decision put workers’ long-term collective bargaining rights in jeopardy.
On Sept. 10, California’s Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) remedied this, reversing the basis of the decision and ruling that public sector employees covered under California’s Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) must have an election before an employer can withdraw union recognition.
Elections not petitions
Holding elections – rather than relying on petitions – is important. People are not always sure what they’re signing when they have a petition thrust in front of them, and the process is susceptible to intimidation and forgery.
In the case of Oak Valley, the decertification effort was led by a few disgruntled workers who felt that people with certain jobs should receive much higher wage increases than others.
“A lot people got misled,” said Mendy Muniain, who serves as a steward. A description labeling the petition as a decertification was on the top sheet, but there were many pages stapled together in a packet, leaving subsequent pages bearing nothing but signatures. Some who signed thought the petition was about the contract.
The process of gathering signatures was also fraught. “We had one person who was really aggressive,” Muniain said. “They would harass people so many times that people would sign the petition just to make them go away because they thought it would go to a vote anyway.”
When the local started clarifying what was happening, many members were unhappy, Muniain said. “We had some people who wanted to take their names back but the decertification group would call them names.”
Elections help eliminate these concerns.
Solidarity in a diverse unit
The Oak Valley unit is made up of a wide variety of workers, including nurses, housekeepers, building engineers, dietary staff, radiology and mammography technicians and billing clerks.
Muniain said she thinks it’s telling that after the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, only a handful of workers have opted out of paying dues.
“This was really just about a few people who were really upset. They just wanted their 8 percent raises, and they didn’t want people to get the same as they got,” she said. “Most of us understand that the tiered system hurts retention. It hurts us all.”
California’s labor laws are distinctive in the protections they offer public sector workers, and the recent PERB decision offers a strong precedent to bolster those rights.