AFSCME Council 18

Valencia County News-Bulletin Covers Detention Officer's Union Election

Bargaining unit formed at detention center in LL
Written by Julia M. Dendinger/News-Bulletin
Saturday, 05 November 2011 07:00

A new collective bargaining unit has been formed at the Valencia County Detention Center. After a quiet four-hour election Wednesday evening, the ballots were counted and the vote was unanimous.

Of the 20 eligible employees at the detention center, 14 participated in the election. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18 in Albuquerque will represent the unit during contract negotiations.

Sandy Donahey, a corrections officer for four-and-a-half years, said the opportunity to vote was, "Perfect. I love it."
Donahey said she grew up in West Virginia, where her father worked in the coal mines.

"He was in the union there and they were always good," Donahey said.

While the chance to vote on being in a collective bargaining unit was unexpected, records clerk Samantha Gallegos said she was happy to be able to cast a ballot.

"It's nice to have the option on whether we wanted to or not," Gallegos said.

Felipe Tena Jr., a corrections officer at the detention center for five years, said he thought being part of a unit would be "better for everybody." Tena was a union member when he worked in the state penitentiary and said the purpose of being organized was all about respect.

"Bumps up (promotions) are about seniority and nothing else," Tena said.

Thomas Griego, the executive director of the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board, served at the election supervisor and made the announcement of the unanimous vote.Griego said there were three contested ballots that had been resolved. The three "challenged" ballots cast during the election were found to be ineligible, county attorney Adren Nance said.

Part of the petition process to hold an election for a collective bargaining unit is to specify which positions will be part of the unit and which will not.

In the case of the detention center, detention officers under the rank of sergeant, records clerks and front reception employees were able to vote.

From that, a list of names of eligible employees is generated. An employee who feels that they should have been able to vote can but it is called a "challenged" ballot.

The election supervisor, election observers and a union representative determine whether the challenged ballots were cast by eligible employees.

Now that the collective bargaining unit has been established, Griego said all current and future eligible detention center employees are part of the collective bargaining unit, but do not have to be union members.
The employees are also entitled to a union representation if the need arises.

The vote will go before the NMPELRB board for ratification on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Griego said.

Rob Trombley, the council representative for AFSCME Council 18, said once that happens, the unit at the detentioncenter will be recognized and autonomous to conduct business.

"They can start the bargaining process on a contract that will lay out the terms and conditions of employment," Trombley said. "I believe the warden will work well with them.

"There are some issues to resolve, but the county has shown a willingness to work with us," he said. "I believe it will be a productive relationship."

Detention Center Warden Joe Chavez said this was new territory for him. Because this is the first time Chavez will be part of collective bargaining as an administrator, he said he would take most of his cues from the county attorney.

"I'm not sure of the steps, but I am excited to learn this part of it," Chavez said. "I believe we will continue operating as we have in the past, treating everyone fairly. We will work with the union and hopefully have a good working partnership."

Chavez said as a Department of Corrections employee, he automatically became a union member when he went to work at the state prison.

"I didn't have to utilize them, so I'm not sure of the pros or cons from that perspective," he said. "This is new to me as an administrator, and I'm looking forward to learning the process."

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