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New union complaint against Washam; recall effort in the future?

Post by David Wickert on Sep. 10, 2009 at 10:28 am |
September 28, 2009 1:30 pm

A new complaint accuses Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam

Dale Washam
Dale Washam

of unfair labor practices, discrimination and retaliation.

The Teamsters Local Union 117 filed the complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Commission last week. It accuses the assessor of several violations of state labor laws, including refusing to engage in good-faith collective bargaining and discrimination and retaliation against employees

(Here’s a PDF copy of the union complaint)

Mary Ann Brennan, public sector coordinator for the Teamsters local, said Washam’s behavior has led to poor working conditions in the assessor-treasurer’s office. She said employees soon will file additional complaints against Washam.

When asked if the union might lead a future effort to recall the elected assessor, Brennan responded: “What we’re doing right now is going through the venues we have, which right now is (the state commission). Down the road, I don’t know. I can’t say.”

Washam denied the allegations, saying they are an effort to oppose changes he’s making to improve accountability and efficiency in his office. As to the possibility of a recall petition, he said, “It is a free country and a citizen’s right that I support.”

The Teamsters local represents nearly all of the roughly 85 employees in the assessor-treasurer office. Its complaint to the state commission cites a recent Washam decision to change work schedules and other working conditions without bargaining with the union.

Washam outlined the changes in a July 31 memo to assessor-treasurer employees. In the memo, he cited Pierce County administrative guidelines that appear to give department heads some flexibility in setting work schedules.

The union maintains state law requires collective bargaining for working conditions.

Among the changes Washam imposed was the elimination of “flex” time and other work arrangements that gave employees some control over their schedules.

The complaint also cited Washam’s decision to designate certain “work discussion areas” for discussing work-related matters. Washam’s memo cites the need to give “consideration to your fellow employees by not disturbing the office work environment and productivity.”

“I don’t understand the purpose of it,” Brennan said of the discussion areas. “It doesn’t have a good feel to it.”

In addition to the changes in working conditions, the complaint cites a recent county investigation that found Washam retaliated against one of his top mangers – Sally Barnes – for filing complaints against him with the Pierce County Human Resources Department.

The report claims Washam has criticized employees for complaining about him and has retaliated by changing their jobs, workload and other working conditions. Brennan said other employees soon will file retaliation complaints against Washam.

The union complaint seeks a ruling that Washam and Pierce County have violated state law. And it seeks to reinstate the jobs and pay of employees the union says have endured discrimination and retaliation.

In written response to questions, Washam said he has always been “willing to engage in negotiations when so warranted.” But he does not believe he must negotiate the scheduling and other changes.

“As the assessor-treasurer, I will always follow the laws of the state of Washington and the USA,” Washam said.

He said the scheduling changes are needed to increase office efficiency. He said he has not retaliated against employees.

Washam did not cooperate with the county’s investigation of the Barnes complaint, which he believes was an effort to discredit him. But he said he will respond to the complaint filed with the state commission.

Update: I spoke with county labor relations manager Joe Carillo. He said human resources department officials believe the schedule changes Washam has made probably are subject to mandatory bargaining.  He said the HR staff offered to sit down with the union on Washam’s behalf. Carillo said a Washam representative told the department that he did not believe he needed to bargain the changes. Without Washam’s participation, Carillo said any negotiations by HR would have been “very ineffectual.”

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