Majority of Sonoma County workers approve union contract, but result unclear

Sonoma County government's largest labor union voted Tuesday by a slim 52 percent majority to approve a proposed labor contract that would balance a short-term salary freeze with future-year wage growth.

But because not all six county bargaining units in Service Employees International Union Local 1021 concurred in the ratification vote, union officials were unclear about its legal outcome.

Lathe Gill, the union's Santa Rosa-based area director, said officials would be reviewing the result with attorneys, a process he said could take "a few days."

The uncertainty has to do with whether the union follows past practice, which required majority approval by all bargaining units, or whether an overall majority is enough to ratify the contract, as dictated by current union bylaws, Gill said.

"The vote was close enough that that is in question," he said.

He added that any final determination was likely to face an internal challenge within the union, a sign of how contested negotiations have been with the 1,700-member organization, representing nearly half of all county employees.

About three-quarters of the 1,200 SEIU members eligible to vote participated in the election, Gill said.

Jim Leddy, a county spokesman, said the county was pleased to hear about the majority vote Tuesday night. But he said county officials were awaiting word from the union before offering any additional comment.

The muddled result leaves talks between the two sides in limbo. Approval of the agreement could defuse what has been an escalating legal fight between the union and the county. Rejection, however, would set the stage for an even more protracted battle, including a likely strike.

Tuesday's vote was the second by the union after 11 months of protracted negotiations. In the previous vote, in December, union members overwhelmingly rejected a package that would have extended a now five-year freeze on cost-of-living adjustments to wages for an additional three years.

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