Deputies seeking sheriffs’ union split
February 10, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
Members of the county’s largest and most influential union have mounted an aggressive campaign to divide the Deputies Sheriff’s Association (DSA) into two separate unions.
If the action is successful, one union would be comprised of sworn peace officers, the other of non-sworn sheriff personnel.
A break would damage the effectiveness of the association, said DSA President Dale Strobridge. “The most effective way to represent the community is to have a blended agency. We are the most politically effective county organization.”
Strobridge was elected to his second two-year term as president December 30 by approximately 60 percent of the membership. A few days later, a group of sheriff deputies headed by Det. Patrick Zuchelli, runner up in the DSA election, began circulating a petition to break away from the mixed unit. The group has dubbed itself the Association of San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs (ASLOCDS). Zuchelli was appointed its first president.
Zuchelli asserts the attempted split is not directed at discontent over a single individual, but an attempt to provide peace officers their own union. Zuchelli declined to comment further and said the issue was “private.”
Several proponents of the split, however, have voiced discontent over the election of Strobridge and a handful of issues they say have fueled the proposed sheriff deputy union schism.
Proponents of the split claim Strobridge has provided DSA legal counsel to comrads, while turning away political opponents. Though all members of the union are entitled to legal representation regarding allegations of misconduct, legal assistance regarding workplace grievances is subject to Strobridge’s approval.
“All those who have requested legal defense for grievances have received defense,” Strobridge said. “No one has been denied.”
Deepening the rift is discontent over DSA director Tony Perry’s knowledge of the bugging of Chief Deputy Gary Hoving’s office. Perry sat in during discussions with Sheriff Pat Hedges, Bolts, and Sgt. Jay Donovan over the proposed illegal eavesdropping at a coffee shop on Monterey Street in August of 2006. Several proponents of the split assert the alliance has corrupted the integrity of the union.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the breakup,” said Undersheriff Steve Bolts. “They are not critical of administration, they are critical of DSA leadership.”
According to DSA officials, Donovan filed a grievance alleging unfair and retaliatory workplace treatment against Hoving, not a narcotics detective. At the time, Perry was an executive director of the union under former DSA President Darren Murphy.
“You have Tony Perry advocating for an employee that submitted a grievance,” Strobridge said. “We are obligated under the duty of fair representation to represent interests of aggrieved employees. After the coffee shop meeting, Perry was informed by sheriff administrators that the tape recording would take place and that the sheriff was investigating allegations of criminal conduct. As long as the recording is part of a criminal investigation, it is lawful.”
The DSA is the county’s largest law enforcement association representing 270 deputy sheriffs, dispatchers, crime prevention personnel, correctional officers, and evidence and property technicians within the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department. DSA members elect five executive officers and 19 directors every two years. Each division throughout the county is represented by a director.
Last month, ACLOCDS officials submitted a petition signed by 96 of 149 sheriff deputies to county administration. According to California code, peace offices can break into their own union. First, at least 40 percent must sign a petition. Then county administrators must approve the application. If approved, a majority vote of members is required in order to create a new union.
In 2000, an attempted split failed to garner enough votes, though more than a majority had signed the petition.
“Just because they sign a petition, doesn’t mean they will vote for it,” said Alison Berry Wilkinson, a San Rafael attorney representing DSA and more than 100 other union organizations throughout the state. “They cast a secret ballot. The petitions are signed in public.”
Last week, Wilkinson sent a letter to county administration challenging the ASLOCDS petition and asserting that it is fatally flawed. The petition requests that deputy sheriffs, senior deputy sheriffs, and sergeants have representation in the proposed union. However, county article II section 6(F)prohibits supervisory and non-supervisory county personnel from belonging to the same unit.
“Certain flaws are uncorrectable,” Wilkinson added. “I think they have to start over.”
If county administration determines the petition is fatally flawed, ACLOCDS will have to wait a year for their next window in which to file for separation.