November 7, 1996 in City

County Managers Prepare For Walkout Union Vote Tonight Could Decide If Workers Strike As Soon As Tuesday

By The Spokesman-Review
 

On the eve of a union strike vote, Spokane County Courthouse managers said Wednesday they are prepared for a walkout, and in at least one case have already lined up temporary replacement workers.

A walkout could start as soon as Tuesday.

About 1,000 union members will vote tonight on whether to strike over the lack of a single contract to cover all employees. A decision to strike requires 90 percent agreement from the members who attend the meeting.

A similar vote in 1993 was supported by 98 percent of workers. That year, courthouse employees walked out for six days.

Union representative Bill Keenan would not predict what members will decide tonight. But he acknowledged that labor leaders rarely call for a vote unless they’re confident the rank and file will support a strike.

“We’re not walking into that meeting recommending a strike,” Keenan said. “We’re giving them the options and letting them decide.”

But in a flier announcing the vote, union officials accuse the prosecutor and District Court judges - the primary focus of the union grievances - of “betrayal” and of issuing a “declaration of war” against workers.

A police employee said Keenan has talked to police about making safety arrangements for a strike, which would include most employees except for engineers, corrections workers and sheriff’s deputies.

Keenan said there’s been no decision when a strike would begin. Veterans Day, which is Monday, is a paid holiday, so Tuesday would be a “logical” day to walk out, he said.

Several county officials said they doubt most union members will support a strike designed primarily to benefit workers in two agencies. Prosecutor Jim Sweetser and District Court judges refuse to let their workers join a master contract that already has been ratified by the union and tentatively approved by county commissioners.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to bust our union,” reads the union flier.

The gap between management and labor widened Monday, when a Lincoln County judge ruled deputy prosecutors don’t have collective bargaining rights and can be fired at will.

The union flier makes no mention of that decision.

Sweetser already has told his deputies and support staff they’ll be fired if they strike.

In 1993, many elected officials sent letters telling striking employees they may be fired if they didn’t return to work. No one was fired, Keenan said.

Warned in a letter from the county’s personnel manager to prepare for a strike, department heads have contingency plans in place.

“We have an obligation to the public. We intend to meet it,” said Public Works Director Dennis Scott.

Scott said if all of his union workers walked out, supervisors would staff the building and planning department, but would not issue new building permits. Some retired building inspectors already have been asked to come back to work in case of a strike, he said.

Snow is Scott’s biggest concern. If a storm hits and workers don’t cross the picket lines, he’ll hire private contractors to plow the roads or call for licensed operators from other cities and counties.

“We intend to plow the streets. We prefer to do it with our guys,” he said.

County Auditor Bill Donahue said he’s got enough supervisors to make sure people can still get marriage licenses and conduct other business. People seeking car licenses would be sent to the satellite licensing offices, which are run by private firms.

In Superior Court, “we presume it to be business as usual,” said Presiding Judge Robert Austin. Clerks are members of one of the locals that would strike, but bailiffs and court reporters are not, he said.

Presiding District Court Judge Daniel Maggs wouldn’t say whether he’s contacted potential replacement workers.

“We have a contingency plan,” he said. “We would continue at full service to the community.”

, DataTimes


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