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Labor representation dispute lands in Capitol mailboxes

A high ranking official with the union representing government workers sent a letter to state legislators implying that a lobbyist for one union local had misrepresented himself, setting off a dust-up between the local union and its statewide parent.

The letter, dated April 22, went to all 120 legislative offices, according to the staffer who provided it. In it, Willie L. Pelote, assistant director of political action for the American Federation of State, Country and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) International, advised legislators that he and colleague Michael Bolden represent AFSCME California and AFSCME International. He went on to say that lobbyist Carl London "is only authorized to represent" AFSCME Local 2620, which represents about 4,700 health and social service professionals employed by the state.

Near the end of the one page letter, Pelote states "I respectfully request that any such misrepresentations with your office …immediately be directed to me."

According to Nancy Swindell, president of Council 57, of which Local 2620 is a part, London has never misrepresented himself. She said that she was "surprised by the letter" and found its tone "vile."

"Willie could have said Carl represents only Local 2620 without implying that Carl has misrepresented himself," Swindell said. She denied that London ever misrepresented himself, noting that he sends all of his written correspondence for the group on Local 2620 letterhead. On the contrary, she said, they have been very happy with London's work since hiring the firm January 1 of 2007.

"Since we hired Carl, we have become a political presence in California," Swindell said. "He has helped us organize a wonderful political plan for our local. For the first time feel we are represented."

When contacted on Monday afternoon, Pelote refused to answer questions.

"We never respond to the media on internal stuff that goes the Legislature," Pelote said. "Whoever provided it to you, tell them good luck."

Swindell said that the letter came in response to a meeting of several high-ranking AFSCME officials in Pelote's Sacramento offices about two weeks ago. They asked him to draft a document that helped clarify which lobbyist worked for different locals within the larger union. Other locals have their own lobbyists, she noted, such as Doug Chiappetta, who represents about 2,000 state-employed physicians and dentists, and William Schlitz, who lobbies for thousands of University of California workers represented by AFSCME Local 3299. Both men are employees of their union locals, not contract lobbyists.

She said she was expected Pelote to produce a document that would be used inside the union to clarify roles-not a letter implying wrongdoing sent to the Legislature. In fact, she said, she met with Pelote's boss, AFSCME political action director Larry Scanlon, on Monday afternoon, before she become aware of the letter.

"If I had known that letter was out there, we would have had a different conversation," Swindell said. She said that she called Scanlon's office and asked him to speak to Pelote.

Local 2620 hired London because they wanted to take a more active role, she said. London has been working to oppose several bills, she said, and convinced Assemblyman Jose Solario, D-Santa Ana, to carry a bill on their behalf. AB 2753 would provide "title protection" to state social workers by limiting their title to those with at least a bachelor's degree in social work or a closely-related field.

She went on to say that Pelote may have felt "outclassed" by London, but that she hoped peace would come to the union dispute soon.

"I don't want there to be a rift in the family," she said.

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