Politics & Government

Union files complaint against Pierce County

A union has filed a complaint with the state alleging that Pierce County edged union employees out of hours and pay by allowing nonunion workers and volunteers to do park maintenance work.

The eight-page complaint filed by Teamsters Local Union 117 also says the county went around the union by talking directly to workers about the potential closure of Sprinker Recreation Center and employee layoffs that might have ensued.

The complaint alleges that the county broke state law that governs labor practices.

“The (county’s) actions have had the effect of chilling union activity and undermining support for the union,” the complaint says.

It was sent this month to the state Public Employment Relations Commission, or PERC.

The county declined to talk about specifics of the complaint, although Parks & Recreation director Kathy Kravit-Smith said she would not intentionally violate a union contract.

“I would never do anything contrary to the contractual arrangement,” she said.

PERC issued a preliminary ruling Thursday, that there could be a fair labor practice violation. Preliminary rulings don’t address the validity of claims ; that comes later, said Cathleen Callahan, PERC executive director.

The next step is for the county to respond , which must happen within 21 days of the preliminary ruling.

Teamsters Local Union 117 represents 195 county employees, including park maintenance workers.

The complaint says the county:

• Scheduled nonunion temporary workers for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in January, even though union employees were willing to work overtime and in the past had right of first refusal.

• Allowed nonunion workers, including those doing court-ordered community service, to do maintenance work during nonholiday hours without giving the union the chance to negotiate.

• Allowed nonunion volunteers to do maintenance work at Gonyea and Dawson parks, which was previously done by union employees, without giving the union the chance to negotiate.

• Went around the union by holding a meeting in June directly with workers to discuss the potential closure of Sprinker Recreation Center. Workers were told the closure could result in up to six layoffs, according to the complaint.

Sprinker no longer faces closure because the Pierce County Council has agreed to spend $6.1 million to repair the aging recreation center in Spanaway.

In recent months, budget cuts have prompted the county to reduce maintenance at several parks, including Gonyea on 10th Avenue South and Dawson on 90th Street East. Kravit-Smith said the budget to hire extra workers to help with maintenance has dropped more than $240,000 since 2008.

Community members have stepped up to help through the “Adopt-a-Park” program. People living near Dawson Park, for example, have mowed the grass and picked up garbage.

The program has been around for 16 years and is included in county code, Kravit-Smith said.

The county has other programs that use volunteers, including one in which they serve as park hosts – a task that includes some maintenance work, Kravit-Smith said. That program also has been around for years, she said.

The County Council recently restored $80,000 in park money, which will go toward re-opening Dawson and Gonyea parks.

Paul Zilly, a spokesman for Teamsters Local Union 117, said the union doesn’t oppose community programs, but does want to ensure that its workers aren’t pushed out of hours or jobs.

Zilly said Teamsters and county officials are scheduled to meet this week .