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Special Election Edition

This is the second in a series of Special Edition TEA Times to address frequently asked questions by TEA members. In the previous edition we discussed the Election Process and the Retro Payment for 2008, 2009 and 2010. In this edition we provide an Update on the Election Process, and answer questions on Union Dues, the Furlough Retro, Contract Negotiations and Legal Services.

Update on the Election Process

What's the status of the election process and schedule?

TEA members report that they began receiving ballots from PERC (Public Employment Relations Commission) in the mail on Wednesday, 1/19. PERC is responsible for conducting the union election. They are conducting a "vote-by-mail" election. There's a 14 day balloting period that started on January 18th. All ballots need to be returned to PERC by February 2nd and will be counted by PERC on February 3rd. Notices from PERC have been posted in the office to fully explain the voting process.

There three choices on the ballot: TEA, Teamsters and non-represented. You can only vote for one choice and if you add any other notes or markings on the ballot, your ballot may be rejected by PERC.

If you haven't received a ballot by now, you should contact Sally Iverson at PERC at

Union Dues

The Teamsters say that they charge more for Union Dues than TEA. Is that true?

Is it significant?

Yes it's true. A vote for the Teamsters is a vote to pay significantly more in union dues; more than 3 times higher in fact.

The TEA dues rate is 0.4%.
The Teamsters charge 1.3%.
That's a 325% increase over what we pay now.

Here are some examples to gage the impact of moving to the Teamsters:

If we switch to the Teamsters, we could end up be paying between $640(Admin II) to $1,355 (Eng V) per year in union dues. That's 3.25 times what we pay now.

Why do the Teamsters charge so much?

Keep in mind, the Teamsters are a private business. They have to pay staff salaries and bonuses and they need to pay for their office overhead, vehicles and insurance, travel to conferences, political contributions at the local, state and national level. And they need to pay for marketing. The Teamsters have an aggressive marketing effort underway to increase their membership and they rely on income from dues to sustain their marketing efforts. And they need to pay the Shop Stewarts to perform their union jobs; not in direct salaries, but in exchange for the dues that are waived. If you vote for the Teamsters, a portion of your dues will be paying for the "dues" of Shop Stewarts (co-workers selected by the union) who will have their dues "waived" in exchange for performing union activities. Essentially, one, two, three or four of our co-workers will get a "free-ride" because the rest of us will be paying their dues.

Do TEA Board members pay dues?

Yes, TEA officers and Committee members are all volunteers and pay the same dues as other members. TEA is a professional organization and its Board is elected by the membership and serves 2-year terms. TEA volunteers are passionate about serving their co-workers, protecting our collective rights and improving the work environment. TEA continues to keep its dues low by utilizing a professional organizational model similar to that of the King County Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Furlough Retro Pay

I heard that TEA won the Furlough ULP but it doesn't seem like the decision has been followed by the County. What's the status?

The PERC Hearings Examiner and the PERC Commissioners both ruled in favor of TEA. They also ruled in favor of a similar ULP filed by ATU587. The County has appealed all of those decisions to the State Superior Court of Thurston County (this is because PERC is headquartered in Thurston County). Legal briefs have been filed and oral arguments are scheduled for February 18th at 2pm. Judge McPhee is expected to make a ruling that afternoon.

If the judge rules in our favor, what will TEA members get?

Assuming TEA prevails in the election against the Teamsters, all Transit TEA members will be eligible to receive a Retro Payment for the 10 days of "lost pay" from 2009 plus 12% annual interest. That amounts to nearly 4% of your annual earnings. The fact that the County appealed PERC's rulings has delayed the payment of the money owed to us but the good news is we are earning 12% interest on that amount.

I've heard that our furlough Retro money depends on whether TEA wins this election. Why is that?

It has to do with PERC rules. If a union is decertified, it loses the ability to recover back pay on its ULP (unfair labor practice) complaints. In short, whether intended or not, a vote for the Teamsters is a vote to let the County keep your furlough money, including the 12% interest.

The Teamsters have said that we would still get our furlough money even if we went with them. Why did they say that?

We don't know exactly why they would say that. Is it a misrepresentation of the facts or is it incompetence, we're not sure. Either way they are flat wrong. Remember, these are the same folks who said the furlough itself wasn't even negotiable.

Why would the County keep appealing after losing 2 times with PERC?

It's somewhat convoluted but the Teamsters are involved in blocking our furlough Retro. We know this because TEA was recently close to an agreement with the County to have them drop their Court appeal and pay us what they owe, but based upon statements made by Teamster Attorney Spencer Thal, the County reversed itself and now claims that it needs to keep appealing.

What's that? How could the Teamsters convince the County to keep withholding our furlough money?

It has to do with the labor "coalition" that the Teamsters are involved in. Remember that back in the Fall of 2009 the Teamsters said that the County had the right to unilaterally impose the furlough and the Teamsters convinced their members to accept the furlough. TEA took a different position because our legal team advised that the furloughs were a mandatory subject of bargaining that couldn't be imposed. As it turns out we were right and the Teamsters were wrong. TEA decided to file a ULP to challenge the unilateral application of the furloughs and we've won (twice!) while the Teamsters and other "coalition" members accepted the furloughs and a cut in pay.

In the "furlough coalition agreement" with the County, they included some type of "me too" clause that says that if the County negotiates a better deal with other unions (apparently including TEA), then they potentially get some part of their furlough money back. Neither the County nor TEA thinks that this "me too" clause means that if TEA and ATU win their case in litigation that the "coalition" deal is in any way affected. But evidently, the Teamsters have told the County that the coalition would file a grievance if the County didn't continue appeal PERC's ruling to return our furlough money.

Contract Negotiations

When will we be able to resume contract bargaining?

After the representation vote there's a 7 day window in which the results could be challenged. After that, PERC will certify the results. TEA is prepared to return to the table immediately. We have a proposal that's already been presented to the County. We will want to review the contents of that proposal with all of you and update it with additional ideas you have or to address anything that's arisen in the interim, but we intend to immediately schedule bargaining sessions with the County and resume negotiations.

Is it possible to make the next contract bargaining cycle a more democratic and inclusive process?

Yes, that's a high priority of the new Transit bargaining committee. Keep in mind that the first two contract bargaining committees were chaired by a Transit supervisor. That is no longer the case. The current chair of the Transit bargaining committee is a member of the Staff Bargaining Unit and the new committee is already exploring ways to engage the members in the bargaining process. More frequent bargaining team meetings, solicitation for more frequent member input, progress reporting and meetings with individual work-groups are some of the changes that have been proposed; and the bargaining chair is open to additional proposals from the members.

One concern I've hear is that TEA's negotiating team takes too long to reach an agreement with the County and that the Teamsters can get a contract faster.

That may be true in some cases, for example when a group wants to "roll-over" the terms of an existing contract, but it is generally NOT the case with a new contract. For an example, we just need to look to the Transit Section Managers: the Teamsters have been bargaining a contract for Randy Witt et.al. for more than a year without bringing a contract to a vote. It would be easy to criticize the length of time that the managers have been without a contract, but we know that the first contract is always the hardest because each side is trying to set the bar for future negotiations. In this case, it's often better to take the time necessary to hammer out a GOOD contract as opposed to a FAST contract.

In the first two contracts that TEA has bargained, Transit members have gained significant financial advantages over other County labor contracts. We achieved contract elements that members asked for each of the two times that TEA has gone to arbitration. And each time we went to arbitration, we did so based on votes by the Transit members. The decision to go to arbitration has always been made by a majority vote of the Transit members.

Teamsters Legal Team

The Teamsters brag about their extensive legal resources? Doesn't that give us an edge in bargaining?

No! Both their actual track record and a close look at the resources shows why. For interest arbitration eligible groups like ours their record has been poor to say the least. Furthermore, the Teamsters offer fewer resources for our members, not more.

What's the Teamster resource situation? They keep saying how good their legal representation is.

They only hope that you'd buy that claim without checking it out. Check it out and you would learn that we would be losing: The Teamsters offer a small, less experienced and less reputed team that TEA has in place. And they'll be charging more than 3 times as much for reduced representation!

But the Teamsters say they have a team of 4 lawyers to help us. Isn't that an improvement?

No! It would be a big step backwards for many reasons. First, check out their website and find out about their "team of lawyers." They report only 3 lawyers in their legal department!

They only have 2 lawyers engaged full time handling litigation. And to make matters worse, both of those lawyers are junior lawyers. Their "General Counsel" Spencer Thal is heavily involved in Teamster organizing, not just employee representation and besides, he lists on his biography that spends time engaged in a side practice involving "wills" and "personal injury cases." With only 3 lawyers in the legal department, the Teamsters apparently get to the number "4" by counting their "Government Relations Coordinator" as one of their "staff" lawyers!

So realistically, given that they have 2 attorneys to handle most of their work, what kind of service would we get?

Apart from the fact that their 2 attorneys are junior, the "service" coverage doesn't add up to our advantage. These 2 young attorneys are representing—by the Teamsters own admission—over 16,000 people! That's over 8,000 represented employees per attorney!

So what's the math on that coverage? It doesn't seem to support the Teamster claims of better service.

While the two young Teamster lawyers are handling 8000 employees, our current legal staff averages 360 represented employee per lawyer! In other words, they have 22 times the level of coverage! And that's before you consider that about half of the Teamster attorney workload involve representation of the State Corrections Officers who have lots of grievances! Even if you could count part of the time of the "General Counsel" and "Government Affairs Coordinator, by any honest math they are spread way too thin.

How does our current legal coverage compare?

TEA has much better access to its lawyers. Our current law firm, Cline and Associates, handles over 30 different labor groups All told, there are about 1800 members in those groups. Cline and Associates has 5 lawyers providing services to those 1800 represented employees.

Does the fact that we have interest arbitration rights matter in this decision?

Yes, we believe it matters a lot. We aim to keep the County at the table and, hopefully this time, out of arbitration. We believe the past two arbitration "wins" will motivate the County to reach an agreement at the bargaining table. For the most part, groups that have binding arbitration rights don't stay with the Teamsters. Interest arbitration eligible groups around the state have left the Teamsters in droves. If you ask these groups, you'll learn that the Teamsters simply didn't have the technical skills to compete in the complex interest arbitration environment.

How does the quality of legal services compare?

In our opinion, there simply is no comparison. The Teamster "staff attorneys" may be nice guys for all we know but there is no way we would get the same level of experience or established reputation, even before you consider how thinly they are spread. The Cline law firm has 5 lawyers with a combined 83 years experience! That's a 16 ½ years average. As compared to Cline and Associates team with combined 83 years experience, the Teamsters 2 junior lawyers have 11 years experience between them.

In the balance, the Teamsters offer less coverage and much less experience and they'll charge us over 3 times as much for that "service"! If you vote to join the Teamsters, you are going to be paying more for less and that's before we consider the professional reputations of the Teamster staff attorneys versus our own retained law firm.

What's the difference in reputation we should think about?

Cline is the recognized leader in statewide representation for interest arbitration eligible groups such as ours. The Cline law firm has literally written the book on Washington labor law.

Our legal team has handled 18 interest arbitration case while the Teamsters 117 legal staff has handled just one! (Source: PERC's Interest Arbitration Awards web page.)

The Cline law firm has prevailed, beating the employers' best offer in 17 of those 18 cases! By contrast, the single interest arbitration case for Teamster legal staff didn't go well; the arbitrator adopted the employer's wage proposal!