Attempts by some San Miguel County blue and white collar workers to form a union fell short last week, with employees eligible to cast a ballot on the issue voting 21-17 against unionizing.
Enrique Mejia, an Albuquerque-based union organizer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the big issues prompting San Miguel County employees to explore the possibility of forming a union were favoritism and unfairness.
Because the attempt to form a union failed, Mejia said, the law mandates a one-year cooling off period, meaning that employees won’t be able to vote on the issue for at least another year.
San Miguel County Manager Les Montoya was away from his office on Monday and Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment.
County Commission Chairman Nicolas Leger said he is a strong supporter in unions and believes in employees right to organize.
“In this case, I hope that it’s (the vote against forming a union) somewhat of a reflection on the way we treat our employees — that we treat them well,” Leger said. “I wish we could pay them more; the budget just doesn’t allow for it. It was obviously a close vote. I know the administration and the commissioners didn’t take a position.”
AFSCME spokesman Miles Conway, meanwhile, called the outcome of the election unfortunate.
“We’re very disappointed. It was a very close election,” Conway said. “What we take away from the entire experience is that it was really unfortunate that Les Montoya and (County Attorney) Jesus Lopez condoned and allowed to happen an anti-union campaign where, on at least one occasion, the employees were summoned to, we call them captive meetings, where everybody is required to attend a meeting and then they’re kind of coerced or coached to make sure they vote against the union.”
Conway said it’s difficult for employees to vote for a union when they’re given the impression that they have a choice between having a union and not having job or not having a union and having a job.
Leger said that, to his knowledge, no such tactic was used by the county.
“I’ve never heard anything like that, and as chairman of the commission I wouldn’t condone any sort of behavior like that,” Leger said. “There are a lot of mandatory meetings we have for our employees. They have to do with mandatory safety meetings and different processes like that, but I’ve never heard of any sort of mandatory meeting where any union issue or unionization is ever addressed. It’s never been brought to my attention, and I would quite frankly be pretty surprised if they were doing anything even remotely similar to what they’re alleging.”
While the county’s blue- and white-collar workers opted not to form a union, the county’s detention officers and sheriff’s deputies are represented by a union, and they ratified their first union contract by a unanimous vote on Sept. 9.
Conway said the officers voted to form a union in June 2010.
He said the county hired an outside consulting group to negotiate with the union on its behalf, and those negotiations were protracted.
“But we got there,” he added. “Officers ratified their contract.”
AFSCME issued a news release about the contract earlier this month.
“The protracted sometimes contentious negotiations lasted over a year as county and union leaders worked toward agreement addressing the driving issues of health and safety, nepotism, equal opportunity for advancement, fair treatment and compensation for county public safety employees,” AFSCME said in its release. “The two year legally binding agreement goes into effect immediately and guarantees a wage increase between three and four percent. According to lead union negotiator and detention officer Jeff Romero, the agreement spells out a ‘fair disciplinary process where officers cannot be retaliated against on a whim or without justification.’”
The contract sets terms and conditions of employment for 47 county detention officers and sheriff’s deputies.
“Now that we have a union contract where everyone knows the rules and we’re paid a wage we can live on, we can focus on our jobs,” Romero said in the release.