Local 620 continues to address issues carried over into July that will affect our membership for several years. As of June 21st, 2018, we have not received any word on the outcome of the current US Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules against labor organizations in Janus v. AFSME, it will seriously affect the funding and processes used in supporting our members and that of working people all across the nation. This case has been bought and paid for by big business and anti-union groups to cripple the resources for working people to have a say in their daily work environment, wages/benefits, safety/conditions, labor laws and political activity that support working families. Currently, the target is on public sector employees, but private sector labor groups are next on anti-union groups’ agendas. No matter what the outcome, Local 620 will continue to fight for fair contracts to protect the rights of individuals whom we represent and continue to work to improve the quality of life for working people with whatever resources we have available.
On June 19th, 2018, the County of Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors approved a new “Civil and Respectful Workplace Policy,” which was brought forward by the Director of Human Resources. Whereas the sentiment/goal of this policy is one that labor could respect and appreciate, the policy and the County HR Director’s rationale for its development greatly concern us. For that reason, Local 620 opposed the approval of this policy during the meet and confer process in one-on-one meetings with principals and at several Board of Supervisors meetings. Local 620 members and staff felt strongly that this should be a “mission statement” and not a policy or tool that can and will be used against employees including, but not limited to management, co-workers, and subordinates to either gain control or retaliate against another co-worker based on a perceived situation, comment or worse, a false constructive claim for one’s own benefit.
The County HR Director claims that this policy is needed to address ongoing issues of disrespectful and/or abusive behavior including perceived claims of bullying, degrading, intimidating, or undermining co-workers or their work. On the surface, this would seem to benefit our members. However, one of Local 620’s issues regarding this policy is the administration of the policy. The policy will be administered by the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity Officer (EEO Officer) who is a county employee and reports to the County HR Director, not a neutral independent body regarding issues of one’s employment. First, let me clearly state that I have the utmost respect for individuals who are employed in the Human Resources field, but I can assure you that the main role of an HR professional is to protect the employer first in almost all situations. Not all HR professionals are unbiased, caring, and supportive to employees and their issues. In fact, HR professionals are often career minded and fully understand that their actions/decisions will be evaluated by their supervisor who probably has a great influence on their career development path. This is not to say that present county HR department staff is not caring, ethical, and/or impartial, although these attributes are subjective and dependent on one’s point of view as it relates to the issue at hand and the impacts of the outcomes on the organization or affected employee(s). This policy may out last current HR staff and it is uncertain that HR staffers in the future will have strong ethical/professional approaches to the performance of their duties.
As your labor representative, it is my responsibility to provide recommendations and or suggestions on dealing with work-related issues. In that vein, I need to caution our county members on the use and/or repercussions of the “Civil and Respectful Workplace Policy.” This policy could be used against you for either perceived, actual, or constructive claims. If such a claim is filed against you, the county’s EEO officer will act as investigator, interrogator, and judge whether the claim has merit, if correction is necessary, or if punishment is recommended. It is hoped that this will be done without bias or pressure from other sources and that the claims will be substantiated with actual verifiable evidence. It is imperative that as the subject of action you invoke your right to representation (Weingarten Rights) right away and notify your union rep prior to being asked any questions. Often, by the time you realize that you are in trouble and need help, it is too late because you trusted the individual by whom you are being interviewed. I am sorry to say we live in a new age and you need to use caution dealing with everyone in your work environment. In this day and age, individuals can be thin skinned, defensive, and opinionated, which may very well result in a perceived violation of this policy. It could be a simple conversation between you and a coworker, which is overheard by a third party who takes offense at your opinion and files a complaint (so much for your First Amendment rights).
Let me provide an example: You are discussing the existence of God with a co-worker and you state that anyone that believes in God is ignorant. If that offends your co-worker or someone eavesdropping, then it could be claimed that you violated numerous sections of this policy. There are several ways to violate this policy just by being a human being with your own personality, mannerisms, and work ethic that could be perceived or constructed as offending another individual. As you can guess, this will be extremely hard to defend because it is subjective and the potential that the decision making process may rest with an individual who may have their own biases or agendas. My best advice is to know that the potential for this situation exists and to use whatever caution you can to protect yourself if possible by not making statements that may result in discipline without union representation. Even if you are not the subject of the investigation, but just a witness, you can be disciplined if there is a perception that you made a false or disrespectful statement against anyone else involved in this three-ring circus.
Now let’s explore the potential of a Local 620 member using this policy for an issue that they may have. This policy will be a good tool if in fact you have an actual verifiable violation of the policy. This can be brought against your supervisor, co-worker, or a county vendor for uncivil, abusive, and disrespectful actions on the part of the other individual. Please remember that as union members you signed an oath that you will not intentionally harm another union member. You also need to understand that as a result of making the claim, there is always the potential that if the claim is unfounded, then the individual that you filed the claim against may, in return, file a claim against you using the same policy. You also need to know that even if your claim is valid, the individual who is administering the complaint is a county HR representative whose first responsibility is to protect the employer; often they are very cautious on providing you with anything that may result in a lawsuit against the county. If this is an actual substantiated claim, then members may want to use the services of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) EEO Officer instead because this is a neutral party and County Administration has no control over their actions.
While the sentiment/goal of this policy is one that can be appreciated and respected as long as all the parties involved are reasonable, tolerant, and respectful of individuals’ rights without being self-serving, sadly, in this day and age with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, many people are thin-skinned, self-centered, opinionated, and defensive against any issue/belief that they don’t share whether it is political, personal, or otherwise. It is my fear that with the approval of this policy that we have opened up a can of worms that will result in many needless hours of work for both the employer and labor organizations. It may result in some very bad things happening to good people just because they have a difference of opinion or because they were trying to do their job in overseeing the work of others. This policy will likely be used for retaliatory, subjective, self-serving, and abusive purposes.
Local 620 and its staff will do everything possible to protect our members against this policy and only use this policy for our members’ interests so long as they are ethical and the claims can be substantiated. It will be important to monitor the use of this policy and report any abuse stemming from it.
Local 620 is dedicated to providing meaningful, quality service to our members and our communities. We look forward to involvement and interaction with members both in a group setting and one on one. We value your constructive input, and suggestions and encourage you to participate in your union.
Bruce Corsaw, Executive Director