Agents, park rangers, investigators launch effort for new union

More than 2,700 sworn state peace officers have launched a bid to form their own union and break away from their current bargaining unit. The breakaway group, the Peace Officers of California, says that the larger union is dominated by a variety of non-peace officer job classifications.

Currently, peace officers are represented in State Bargaining Unit 7, which has about 7,000 members. The various bargaining units – there are 21 representing state employees – negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the state covering such things as pay and benefits. If the Peace Officers of California, or POC, are approved as a union, it would constitute the 22nd bargaining unit.

POC has filed a severance petition with the Public Employees Relations Board, the first step in the process. The group collected statements from 1,400 of the 2,700 peace officers expressing interest in forming a separate bargaining unit. An administrative law judge is reviewing the issue and will report recommendations to PERB in the near future, said Jerry Karnow, a 20-year law enforcement veteran and spokesman for POC.

If an election is approved, the peace officers will vote on whether to form their own union.

"Our unit is about 40 percent peace officers, and the other 60 percent are not," Karnow said. The peace officers include park rangers, Justice and Insurance Department investigators, Fish and Game wardens, Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, Corporation Department investigators, and others.

"These are cops who catch the bad guys," Karnow said. The non-sworn peace officers include milk inspectors, billboard inspectors, dispatchers, clerks, DMV license examiners. "The majority of employees in the current union are not peace officers. We found that there have been situations when the cops have not benefited from that. The non-sworn employees are riding on the coattails of the sworn officers," Karnow added.

The Schwarzenegger administration, originally neutral on the issue, opposes the severance, as does the leadership of the peace officers' current union, the California State Law Enforcement Association.

A sharply worded statement on CSLEA's web site, noting the Schwarzenegger administration's opposition, predicted a lengthy legal battle.

"Given how irrational POC's leadership is, it is likely a long and protracted legal battle will ensue through the fall of 2009. CSLEA will continue to remain focused on protecting the interests of all Unit 7 members while devoting needless time and energy to fighting this fruitless endeavor," according to CSLEA's manager and general counsel, Kasey Christopher Clark.

The administration, in a statement of position filed Monday with PERB, also noted that "PERB discourages the fragmentation of units and is not inclined to send a message to employees within other bargaining units that severance is the way to go. Ironically, the only factor which has changed since the 1989 decision is that CSLEA will aggressively fight the severance instead of remaining neutral as it did in 1989."

The peace officers suggest that the CSLEA's use of union funds to oppose the severance is improper, given that hundreds dues-paying members favor separation from the union.

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