County Human Service employees back union vote

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Election returns 163 county Human Services employees to union representation

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

TeamsterswinWEST CHESTER — Employees of Chester County’s Human Services departments voted by nearly a two-to-one margin to approve Teamsters Local 384 as their new union representatives, Thursday.

According to unofficial tallies released by the county, the union won 96-56, with all but seven employees voting.

Employees were from the departments of Children Youth and Families, Drug & Alcohol, Mental Health and Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, the Office of Aging Services and the Youth Center.

The vote caps a six-month process that has, at times, been acrimonious.

“It was a long process,” said Chris O’Donnell, a business agent and organizer for Teamsters Local 384, which will now represent the workers. “But we knew coming in that Chester County is not an easy place to organize.”

The vote became increasingly contentious as union supporters claimed the county had hired alleged “union-busters” David Hackett, and of Peter List of Kulture, LLC and then not fully revealed the cost of hiring them. County officials said that List and Hackett were hired by the county’s labor attorney, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, PC. It remains unclear exactly how much was spent, by the county but O’Donnell said he expected that information to come out in the coming weeks. West Chester attorney Samuel Stretton filed a Right-To-Know request last month on the costs, and the county is expected to reveal that information by the end of the month.

The employees were previously represented by the Service Employees International Union from 2000 through 2009, when the union local was decertified. A 2011 attempt to return to union presentation failed by 21 votes.

O’Donnell said he felt that in this time of tight budgets, this group of employees found themselves shuffled to the bottom of the priority list without someone advocating on their behalf.

“If you (as employees) are treated properly,” he said, “you’ll never hear from us.”

While Republican Commissioners Ryan Costello and Terence Farrell were publicly against a return to union representation for the workers, Democrat Kathi Cozzone was supportive of the effort.

“I have always had a great deal of respect for the County’s Human Services staff and truly value the work they do every day to serve the most vulnerable citizens in our county,” Cozzone said.

“During this organizing effort, I was able to meet with the employees and hear their concerns directly,” she said in a statement released late Thursday.  “While I supported the employees’ effort to organize, I also expressed that this was their decision to make and that I would respect the outcome, either way. The majority of employees have chosen representation by the Teamsters to address their concerns and I will work with the union on those issues. My door will still be open to continuing a conversation with any employee.”

If not happy with the outcome, Farrell said he was prepared to accept the results and work to make sure the county is able to provide quality human services.

“I respect the outcome of the vote,” Farrell said in a statement. “I look forward to the county continuing to provide quality human services to Chester County citizens who need and deserve them.”

While the election is complete, O’Donnell said the process toward a new contract for the workers was just starting. Union officials will meet with workers to find out what their goals are and then begin negotiations with the county.

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