By Victoria Martinez
Frustration filled the crowded Santa Ynez Community Service District Board Room at a special meeting Aug. 21 to address Teamsters Union Local No. 986’s recent petition to represent the six employees of the SYCSD.
The Teamsters acquired support from at least four of the six employees before submitting the petition on Aug. 10, and board members were informed of the Teamsters’ petition shortly before their last general meeting on Aug. 16.
Rather than hiring legal counsel for the unionization process during that meeting, the board felt it was in their best interest to hold a special meeting to allow for better community notification of the situation.
At the Aug. 21 meeting, the board’s legal counsel, Rick Battle, and General Manager Jeff Hodge said that they had not been through a unionization process before, and they urged the board to secure special legal representation for the unionization process quickly since the filing of an employee petition starts a legal timeline with deadlines.
Board member Karen Jones expressed concern as to why the SYCSD’s few employees felt they needed a union. She also questioned whether Hodge knew of the petition before it was officially received by his office.
Hodge said that when he received the petition Friday, Aug. 11, he immediately contacted Battle for legal advice rather than contacting the board first. Hodge also clarified that he was not one of the six employees included on the Teamsters’ petition and would not be represented by the union.
The union would include the district’s secretary-treasurer, collection system supervisor-inspector, chief plant operator, collections system maintenance operator I, and collection systems maintenance operator II.
Jones also questioned whether the attorneys being recommended had the best interests of the board and the community service district.
“We need to take care of ourselves and who we represent,” Jones said.
She suggested possibly taking more time to talk to more attorneys before selecting representation on such an important and potentially expensive issue.
Board Member Carl Maler referred back to the time constraints mentioned by Battle earlier in the meeting.
“We have a clock running,” Maler said.
After some debate, the council voted 4-1, with Jones voting “no,” to hire attorney Nate Kowaski from Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo to represent the district through the employee unionization process.
Before the meeting concluded, Board President David Seymour also asked if the board could know what, if anything, went wrong for the employees that led them to seek union representation.
Battle and Hodge both recommended against asking those questions directly to the Teamsters or the individual employees since they were unfamiliar with the legal requirements or consequences of entering such a conversation at this point in the process.
After the meeting, Teamsters Local 986 Coordinator Lynn Swenson told the Star that employees had contacted the union about two months earlier in response to board discussions related to budget cuts and concerns about employee benefit cuts in the future.
“Really what they want to do is stabilize their wages, benefits, and working conditions,” Swenson said.