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Election date set for sheriff’s union; Sheriff’s union would be first in county’s history

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Chaves County sheriff’s deputies will soon vote on the formation of a union after an agreement was reached between the parties to include sergeants, but not animal control officers, in the collective bargaining agreement.

A total of 40 percent of the 29 eligible deputies must vote in the Dec. 6 election for the ballots to be opened and counted, with a majority of votes needed to proceed with certifying the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, as their exclusive bargaining unit.

The Chaves County Labor Management Relations Board voted 3-0 at a special meeting Thursday afternoon in support of the consent agreement that outlines the parameters of the election, which will be supervised by the Chaves County Clerk’s Office.

Albuquerque labor law attorney Dina E. Holcomb, hired by Chaves County to represent the county in the unionization process, told the Labor Management Relations Board that she and Carlsbad attorney Tom Martin Jr., who represents the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, had resolved the disagreements from last month regarding the consent election agreement.

“The parties did reach an agreement on the bargaining unit to include sheriff’s deputies and sergeants, and to exclude the animal control officers,” Holcomb told the labor board. “The bargaining unit right now consists of 29 eligible members.”

Last month, Martin told the labor board sergeants and animal control officers should be included in the collective bargaining unit, while Holcomb said the county opposed their inclusion. Holcomb said last month sergeants shouldn’t be included because they are in supervisory positions, and animal control officers would more appropriately be represented by a blue-collar countywide union.

All probationary, confidential, managerial and supervisory employees of the Sheriff’s Office are excluded from the bargaining unit.

Chaves County manager Stanton Riggs told the Daily Record after Thursday’s meeting animal control officers were excluded from those Sheriff’s Office employees eligible for the bargaining unit because they are not law enforcement officers.

“All individuals in the unit have gone to the academy and passed the academy and are certified law enforcement,” Riggs said. “And the animal control works for the sheriff, but they’re not law enforcement.”

Asked if county jailers could be included in the union, Riggs said they could not.

“They’re not certified law enforcement, they’d have to do their own thing,” he said.

If the sheriff’s deputies vote to form a union, it would be Chaves County government’s first-ever employee union. The process for public employees to form unions is governed by state law and local ordinances, and does not involve governing bodies such as the Chaves County Commission, outside of approving the appointment of members to local labor management relations boards.

The local labor boards meet as needed to consider petitions to form unions and certify election results, and to hear complaints alleging violations of labor agreements and seek out-of-court resolutions.

The city of Roswell’s Labor Management Relations Board is scheduled to meet Nov. 30 to consider prohibited practices complaints from both the Roswell Police Officers’ Association and the city’s Utility Workers of America Local 51.

Martin said collective bargaining agreements provide methods to redress grievances and give employees built-in protections in disciplinary cases.

Riggs said he is unaware of other possible efforts by county employees to form a union.

“We haven’t heard of one,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

Dave Parsons, chairman of the three-member labor board and the county’s management representative on the board, told the newspaper he did not have concerns that the union would cause higher personnel costs for the county.

“No, I think we have pretty astute management at Chaves County and I think they will be very prudent in negotiating contracts,” said Parsons, a retired business executive and former state legislator. “I don’t anticipate any abnormal increases.”

Parsons acknowledged the formation of a sheriff deputies union could prompt other county employees to seek to form unions.

“It’s always possible,” he said. “From what I understand, we have a pretty happy group of Chaves County employees.”

Parsons said he was unaware what prompted Sheriff’s Office deputies, sergeants, detectives and animal control officers to file a petition on Sept. 20 with the Chaves County Clerk’s Office seeking the certification of the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, as their exclusive bargaining unit.

“I have no problem with it,” he said. “I think that union representation is not necessary in the Chaves County management system. The Chaves County commissioners have been very gracious in increasing raises, and Mr. Riggs has been fair in rules and regulations and working conditions. So I can’t see that they’ll benefit anything from it, from being organized.”

Nonetheless, Parsons said county employees have the right to form unions.

“This committee has no authority to accept it or reject it,” Parsons said. “They’re entitled to a vote for representation from a union.”

A similar effort to form a union at the Roswell Fire Department passed on March 16 when firefighters voted 57-2 in support of forming the Roswell Professional Fire Fighters Association for firefighters from the rank of lieutenant and below.

The city’s police officers formed the Roswell Police Officers’ Association in 1995, for sworn police officers from the rank of sergeant down. The city’s other collective bargaining unit is the city’s Utility Workers of America Local 51.

Editor Jeff Tucker may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at editor@rdrnews.com.