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Sheriff deputies vote to form union


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Chaves County sheriff’s deputies have voted to form a union, a union the new president of which said he hopes will evolve into a coalition of all first-responders in Chaves County.

Sheriff’s deputies voted 24-4 Wednesday to form a union under the umbrella of the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, said Chaves County deputy Travis Hardy, the interim president of the nascent union.

“The four that voted no, we need to figure out why they voted no and fix those questions that they have, and see if we can’t meet their concerns and get those squared away so that they feel comfortable joining the union,” Hardy said.

Two of the 30 deputies eligible to vote did not cast ballots because they were on assignment out of the county when the election was held at the Sheriff’s Office, Hardy said.

The Chaves County Labor Management Relations Board is expected to meet soon to canvass the election results.

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An agreement outlining the parameters of the election — that was reached between Chaves County and an attorney for the International Union of Police Association, AFL-CIO, prior to Wednesday’s vote — excluded the county’s animal control officers from the collective bargaining agreement, while including sergeants.

Hardy, a sheriff’s deputy for about 10 years and the interim president of the union to be called the Chaves County Deputies Association, said he hopes animal control officers will ultimately be included in the union.

Sheriff’s Office deputies, sergeants, detectives and animal control officers filed 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.

“We wanted to fight to keep the animal control in, we believe they need to be in,” Hardy said. “They’re commissioned officers, just like us. They have to go out on the streets.

“I’m hoping that we can bring that back to the table eventually and get them back in with us.”

Sheriff’s deputies will not be able to strike and will have to pay union dues of about $40 a month or more, Hardy said. It remains to be determined if all Chaves County sheriff’s deputies will be required to join the union. The collective bargaining agreement, which has yet to be negotiated by Chaves County and the Chaves County Deputies Association, could require all deputies to join the union and pay union dues.

“That’s something that’s being looked into,” Hardy said. “I think everybody, if they would just understand how good this union is and what it can actually do for the deputies, I don’t think it’s going to be a requirement. They’re going to want to (join).”

Hardy said the impetuses for forming a union were concerns about officer safety on the streets, and concerns about having legal representation for officers. He said there are supposed to be a minimum of three deputies patrolling at any time, but absences from work sometimes result in fewer than three patrolling deputies.

“So, with the union, we’re able to police each other, so we can kind of peer police,” Hardy said. “If one deputy calls in sick, then you’re pretty much seeing two deputies on the streets to cover 6,600 square miles.

“Of course, it’s going to be a give and take for both parties. What we’re looking for is more manpower. Our major concern is officer safety. At any given time, we should have at least three deputies on the street. That hasn’t been done because we’re so short-handed.

“There are a lot of other benefits for the union, such as if a deputy is put into an officer-involved shooting, there is no representation without the union. The union now, with the dues we pay in, gives us an attorney so that our rights are protected and if we need them, they are there.”

Hardy said he spearheaded the union effort after a pursuit, standoff and shooting incident involving Chaves County deputies in late September at Old Dexter Highway and Brasher Road.

“There have been deputies in the past that have tried to start unions,” Hardy said. “But either they did it for the wrong reasons or they just didn’t know how to do it and they fell on their face, and that’s unfortunate.”

The new union will be the first union of Chaves County employees. All probationary, confidential, managerial and supervisory employees of the Sheriff’s Office are excluded from the bargaining unit.

“It’s taken a lot of work,” Hardy said. “I had to convince a lot of the deputies that we’re not fighting the big green monster, for one, and that they were extremely worried about if they were going to take away our insurance, if they were going to take away our benefits package, such as our retirement, what they put in.”

Hardy said he’s hopeful the Chaves County Deputies Association can grow to include Roswell police officers and firefighters.

“One thing I’m looking forward to and which will happen in the near future is working up a coalition for the (Roswell) fire department, the police department, Superior Ambulance and ourselves and just do a whole coalition, so that we can all address some of the issues that are working against us,” Hardy said. “I believe it would an amazing help for Roswell.”

Hardy said he’s hopeful Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder will support the new union.

“I think everybody’s just real excited,” Hardy said. “I’m ready to work with the sheriff and show him that this is actually a very positive thing. I know he’s been supportive of it, and I hope he will remain supportive of it and we can just work together.

“I think once they start seeing the positive side of this, that it’s going to be a good thing. Once again, it’s not to fight the administration. It’s to work alongside.”

Roswell firefighters voted 57-2 on March 6 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.

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