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There's an election under way to address the Teamsters petition to take over the TEA Transit Design & Construction staff bargaining unit.
Over the next week or two, we will likely be hearing a lot of talk in the office from Teamster supporters, Teamster employees and their paid organizers, including Teamster letters sent to our homes. We want you to have some straight talk from your fellow TEA members about what's really going on with the Teamsters pending representation petition and how it affects you.
TEA will use this newsletter to answer questions raised by members.
TEA will NOT send letters to your home because we see that as an invasion of privacy.
What are the details of the election process and what's the schedule?
The Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) is sending out vote-by-mail ballots today and there's a 14 day balloting period. Ballots need to be returned to PERC by February 2nd and will be counted by PERC on February 3rd. Notices from PERC will be posted in the office to explain the vote and the voting process.
There will likely be three choices on the ballot: TEA, Teamsters and non-represented.
PERC has predetermined that there are 58 eligible voters in the Transit staff bargaining unit. The winner will need to have a majority of the actual votes returned. It's important that you fill out and return your ballot so that your vote is counted. After a 7-day window in which the votes could be challenged, PERC will certify the results.
Why are we having this election? I've heard a number of members withdrew their Teamster cards?
It's true that many members attempted to withdraw their cards but apparently the Teamsters are not honoring that request. They have decided to move forward with the election process relying on all the old cards signed two years ago, including those that members tried to withdraw. The Teamsters had the option of returning those cards, but have chosen to move ahead with the vote regardless of the wishes of folks who changed their minds.
I heard many of the members who signed the cards thinking that it would just provide them an opportunity to learn more about their options. How can cards like that force an election and tie up bargaining?
While some members who signed might have been misled, the PERC rules still seem to allow the Teamsters to present the cards. Unfortunately, when signing, many members just didn't realize how the Teamsters would use the card or what the impact was and once they learned of it was too late. By then the Teamsters had the power to do whatever they wanted with the cards. This tactic is not necessarily illegal, although certainly members who were misled about the purpose of any card they signed would likely be considering that when they complete their ballot. It's important for those who signed the cards to understand that despite the fact that the Teamsters won't withdraw the cards, they are not bound to vote for the Teamsters.
Our last contract expired in 2007; what's our entitlement to the three years of Retro pay if we stay with TEA vs. switching to the Teamsters?
TEA as the incumbent bargaining unit is entitled to bargain for retroactivity and the Teamsters cannot bargain for retroactivity.
But the Teamsters say that a vote for them "would not jeopardize your retro-pay." What's the real truth here?
Like much of the "Teamster facts" you have to dig deeper to get the whole truth. Simply put, the Teamsters will not be able to negotiate for "retroactivity." They may be able to bargain for some type of lump sum signing bonus as part of an agreement but there is no guarantee of that occurring and there is especially no guarantee that the amount will be anywhere near equal to 3-1/2 years of retroactivity that would be due under any TEA contract negotiated by mid-2011. Besides, their efforts to bargain for a lump sum payout would likely be at an enormous cost. Think about the bargaining dynamics involved for a minute. Collective bargaining usually involves trading something you want for something the employer wants. The County isn't going to just give employees the money without an overall agreement. Because of the laws governing wage retroactivity, this isn't something the County or an arbitrator is going to be able to award any Teamster bargaining unit and the County knows that. The County is likely going to exact a steep price for any lump sum payment they offer.
What type of price should we expect having to make?
Even though they have lost twice on this issue, the County can be expected to renew their demand that the employees be placed into the County's class comp proposal. In 2007, that would have involved about a quarter of the employees being "Y-rated", with reductions in their wages. But that was before the 2008 interest arbitration decision. That decision further improved bargaining unit wages above the level the County's class comp proposal. This time under a similar proposal likely over half of our members would end up being reduced in their wages under that class comp proposal and many others would receive greatly reduced COLAs. The County would be seeking to rollback not just one arbitration decision but two decisions, rolling back two significant wage increases.
So when the Teamsters are saying that they can negotiate for a lump sum payment in place of retroactive wages they can't guarantee that we'll keep intact the wage gains TEA has made for us?
Absolutely not! We predict that those wage gains will be the first thing the County would go after.
But the Teamsters say that other groups have negotiated for lump sum payments in this situation. How is this different?
There's never been any guarantee even in the best of times and any lump sum payment under a Teamster contract covering all the time back to January 2008 is only going to be achieved through negotiations, not arbitration. While the Teamsters cite other examples where the County has extended lump sum payments, those cases are all different in two respects: First, the time period covered here is much, much longer. Second, the economic times are much, much different.
The months of lump sum payment the Teamsters negotiated for the supervisors bargaining unit was for only part of a year and was during much better economic times. Besides, what the Teamsters don't want you to focus on is the big concession that had to be made to get that lump sum payment.
What was the big concession the Teamsters made to get the supervisors their lump sum payment?
Exactly what we are warning about: They had to accept placement into the class comp system along with the All Cities COLA formula. You heard about the raises the Engineer VIs received but you won't hear the Teamsters talk too much about what happened to the Engineer Vs in that bargaining unit.
What happened to the Engineer Vs?
They received a much smaller increase and as a result their wages ended up being less than the Engineer V wages won by TEA in staff bargaining unit. TEA had predicted this result and we were right. As they say, collective bargaining involves making trade-offs and they had to make some significant trade-offs to get a small lump sum payment.
But the Teamsters say that TEA is in no better position to "guarantee" retroactivity than they are. Is that true?
Again, these are Teamster half-truths. Of course, in bargaining there are never any guarantees. But TEA is in a much, much stronger position to secure these back wages. Anyone who doesn't acknowledge this isn't facing up to collective bargaining realities. As we have already seen in our last two labor contracts, groups with binding arbitration are entitled to retroactivity as a matter of course. Employers who have fought retroactivity in similar circumstances in the past have consistently lost. So while there is no 100 percent guarantee of retroactivity, it's hard to conceive of a circumstances were TEA would not be able to achieve it. Because of that, the County, unlike with the Teamsters, wouldn't be able to force TEA to make the same concessions to secure it.
I've heard so many different Teamster explanations on this retroactivity question, I'm a little confused. Are they always consistent in their explanation?
No, consistency hasn't been their hallmark. That's revealed by another recent PERC case involving the Teamsters. Look at this King County-Teamster decision on the PERC website: http://www.perc.wa.gov/Databases/ULP/10184-A.htm Another group of King County employees was dissatisfied with Teamster representation and wanted to drop them. The group (represented by PSEU) argued during the election campaign that they would try to negotiate for retroactive wages and thought they would be successful in getting them. But the Teamsters filed an unfair labor complaint claiming this ability to achieve retroactivity was false. Without agreeing or disagreeing with the Teamster claim, PERC dismissed the ULP because PSEU had never acquired any specific promises from the County to actually get retroactivity.
The lesson is this: If the Teamsters claim they can negotiate for retroactivity, you should be asking them why they've recently said otherwise when they were the union being challenged. PERC has clearly ruled that new bargaining groups can't negotiate retroactivity. Whether they can negotiate some type of lump sum payment is an open question but, as we've said, any such payment with Teamster representation is likely either to come at a big cost or not cover the entire 3-1/2 years.