State Workers

Effort launched in agencies to explore removing unions

State workers in at least three agencies are attempting to remove their unions by requesting a vote on continued representation.

Project managers in the Department of General Administration have filed a petition for decertification with the Public Employment Relations Commission.

And members of a group formed to oppose mandatory union dues say they expect to force a vote in the Departments of Revenue and Labor and Industries, at the least.

In order to change unions or remove a union, state workers in a bargaining unit must turn in signature cards from 30 percent of employees during a time window based on when the next two-year contract goes into effect. That window closes for most workers this week.

"This is not easy stuff to do. We will get a decertification vote at Revenue and L&I supervisors," said Department of Revenue employee Dennis Redmond.

The success of petition drives is less clear in other agencies such as the Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources, he said, citing problems communicating with workers.

Redmond has been battling the Washington Public Employees Association in the Department of Revenue where he works. He and his supporters contend that unions purposely kept nonunion workers in the dark in 2004, when the first contracts to impose mandatory dues were approved in a vote.

A wave of decertification efforts followed that vote in March of 2005, but most were not successful.

Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said last week that his union is not focusing on decertification drives this year.

"We are out there talking to workers on the (new) contract and not specifically not fighting the decertification," he said.

Project managers in the Department of General Administration have filed to remove the federation. It is the only petition received so far by the Public Employment Relations Commission, which would oversee any vote on decertification.

However, the commission has also received three new requests to unionize units. The WPEA has requested a vote on unionizing academic workers in the School for the Blind and the Department of Fish and Wildlife's data management division. The Teamsters have filed to represent fish and wildlife customer service specialists, secretaries and technicians.

Redmond blamed his group's difficulties in gathering signatures on barriers to communicating with co-workers - an obstacle that workers pointed to in the 2005 decertification drives as well.

"Where we've really been hurt in decertification - our plan was built around being able to email folks information about decertification," he said.

Redmond said he and others backed a bill last year, HB 2898, aimed at union communications because they thought it would allow them to use state e-mail in their decertification drive.

But the state Labor Relations Office and the bill's sponsor disagree. Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, sponsored the bill and said it was tailored only to help organizations that engage in bargaining.

Redmond said other routes to workers have been cut off, too. He said a request for workers' names and addresses - given to their union - was denied by the Department of Personnel.

That left his group trying to talk to workers one-on-one or looking up addresses and using them to mail information, he said.

"It's much harder to get the information out doing it this way. There's been a lot of fear out there among state employees," he said. "The unions, ironically enough, are using their names and addresses, the very information they won't give us, to specifically attack decertification."

He said his plans to turn in his decertification cards next week.