VC employees vote to form bargaining unit

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Another collective bargaining unit has been successfully formed by Valencia County employees.

On Sept. 18, the majority of the 32 eligible employees in the animal control and public works department unanimously voted to form a unit.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 18 in Albuquerque will represent the unit during contract negotiations.

In order for a collective bargaining unit to be formed, 50 percent plus one full-time, non-probationary employee must vote in favor of formation.

Miles D. Conway, spokesperson for AFSCME Council 18, said the organization will be communicating with the county on future bargaining dates to negotiate a contract.

Conway said the county chose not to accept the animal control officers as part of the bargaining unit, but animal control kennel technicians.

"The county put forward the case that since the officers go to court and testify, they might be better served forming a separate bargaining unit later in the future as public safety officers," Conway said.

Other members of the unit include mechanics, heavy equipment operators, as well as solid waste and parks employees in the public works department.

Heavy equipment operator Robert Gallegos said for most of the employees, medical benefits were a huge concern.

"We pay 40 percent of the premium, and prescription costs are through the roof," Gallegos said. "Mr. (Bruce) Swingle is a good county manager and we look forward to negotiations with the county to improve benefits."

Swingle said the county would "make the best of it. Valencia County doesn't want to be the kind of employer that employees feel they need a union for protection. But based on the history, employees felt the need.

"We'll work with them. We are going to continue doing things to improve the organization," he said. "I think the union, based on my experience, will support that and hopefully work collaboratively to do that."

In a recent press release, Andres Nevarez, a Valencia County Detention Center officer and negotiator with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2745, announced the ratification of the first VCDC union contract with the county.

"Valencia County Manager Bruce Swingle is a tactical man, but he is fair and bargained with us in good faith," said Nevarez.

Detention center union members voted unanimously to ratify the contract representing 40 facility employees on Aug. 30.

The two-year agreement includes a dollar an hour increase, uniform allowances and fair shift bidding.

"Many of our (detention) officers have families" said Nevarez. "The shift bidding will allow us to plan ahead for our days off. Before the union contract, it was impossible to know what to expect and make plans for family time."

The Valencia County Detention Center mission statement describes a commitment to safe and humane treatment of the residents, but also emphasizes efficiency and fiscal responsibility to taxpayers.

According to Nevarez, those two commitments haven't always existed harmoniously.

"If you want good people who can be counted on, you've got to be prepared to pay and treat them fairly," he said. "This contract is a big step in that direction."

Eligible employees at the detention center voted unanimously in November to form a collective bargaining unit.

The county commissioners discussed the contract during executive session at their Sept. 19 meeting, but took no action since they hadn't received a copy of the contract at that time.

The issue is on the Wednesday, Oct. 3, agenda for discussion again and consideration.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.