Larger group, made up mainly of jailers, is starting a petition drive that smaller patrol officers union opposes.
Friday, May 09, 2008
On Saturday, some Travis County sheriff's office employees will launch a campaign to get collective-bargaining power. They will visit polling places seeking petition signatures, the first step toward a November referendum.
They say their union should be able to negotiate long-term contracts, a power similar to that of Austin's fire and police departments.
But the idea of collective bargaining has split the sheriff's office, which has two unions that often don't see eye to eye.
The larger union, which represents mainly corrections officers, says collective bargaining would ensure that its employees have long-term protection. The smaller union, made up mostly of patrol officers, says collective bargaining would give too much power to the jailers at the expense of the street cops.
About 11,000 signatures are needed by fall to make the November ballot, said James Hodge, president of the larger union.
Pflugerville firefighters also are seeking collective-bargaining power. Their union has started a petition drive to get on the November ballot, Treasurer Sean Dreas said.
The push for collective bargaining comes as Austin begins to renegotiate its contracts with police, firefighters and emergency medical services unions. Meanwhile, there might not be a lot of money to go around with the economy softening into what some fear could become a recession.
Hodge said the sheriff's office has been treated well and will abide by an agreement with the county commissioners and not seek pay increases until 2010.
"But," Hodge said, "we don't know who will be on the county Commissioners Court in the future, and we want a contract for security."
State law would allow only one union to negotiate with the commissioners. Hodge said the unions would have equal representation on the negotiating team and noted that his union also represents some patrol officers.
The contract would need to be approved by the members of both unions, and with three times as many corrections officers, the jailers would be able to dictate how resources are divided, said Darla Fuller, president of the patrol officers union.
"We feel like corrections doesn't have a good grasp of our needs," Fuller said.
This is just the latest rift between the unions. They split six years ago, after corrections officers took control of the union following what they saw as pay raises unfairly slanted toward the patrol officers.
For the past two years, the unions have negotiated cooperatively.
Last year, they secured a new sheriff's office pay scale that gave an average raise of 12 percent. In exchange, they agreed not to seek pay increases for three years.
Brett Spicer, head of the patrol officers' political action committee, said he worries that asking for collective bargaining "could give the public the impression we're not grateful for how we've been treated."
Hodge said the public would not see things that way. He also said the union would abide by the three-year agreement with the commissioners.
Now, TCSLEA is allowing corrections officers to join their group with one thing and one thing only in mind. Collective Bargaining (CB)! They want to be the bigger group in the event CB is achieved. However, they are doing this at the expense of each corrections officer who is woed to their side without being given the appropriate information about the coverage they will be provided in the event of an incident. Beware of the promises and statements made by TCSLEA and their members. Even those LEA members in Corrections, chances are, they are also misinformed. Check the "Facts" and ask lots of questions and you will soon see the difference.