Decision on Sonoma County contract vote due this week

Attorneys for Sonoma County government's largest labor union are set to decide early this week if a vote that appeared to approve a new labor contract for the union will stand.

The vote last week by members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 produced a 52-to-48 percent margin in favor of a 32-month contract that would offset a short-term salary freeze with future-year wage gains.

But the close result has been called into question because four of the union's six county bargaining units voted down the contract. Bargaining units are sub-groups of similarly positioned employees. Past union practice required majority approval by each.

Under current union bylaws, however, majority approval by the entire local carries the vote. In last week's election, approval by two SEIU bargaining units was sufficient to result in an overall majority.

The rule conflict arises out of a 2007 merger between SEIU's previous Local 707 and its current Local 1021. The union represents half of the county's 3,500 employees.

"It wasn't an issue until now because we hadn't had election results quite like these before," said Lathe Gill, Santa Rosa-based area director for Local 1021.

The close result is sign of the discontent many in the union feel about the latest proposal, Gill said.

The decision by union attorneys this week could prompt either an arcane dispute about election rules with the county or an internal feud with disgruntled union members who did not want to see the contract approved.

"There are legal ramifications to either choice," Gill said.

The dispute with the county would happen if union attorneys invalidated the approval. That would prolong a standoff between the two sides and could set in motion union plans for a strike, which members were asked to authorize with their 'no' vote last week.

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