The San Joaquin County Probation Officers Association (SJCPOA) stepped into the labor arena on their own in 2006, having broken away from SEIU, and since that time they have become extremely active and aggressive in the representation of their Members. They joined PORAC and the LDF program prior to their breakaway, and started a long and positive relationship with RLS.
The first challenge was negotiating an entirely new MOU which was successful. A monthly labor management meeting was implemented and has been very successful in resolving issues and creating a positive relationship with the Administration of the Department.
Since those early days we have negotiated two concessions deals based on the County’s budget woes. As with any labor management relationship, not all is perfect, but as of this writing we have successfully resolved every grievance filed without going to the final step of arbitration or the Civil Service Commission.
Most recently, we have prevailed in two grievances with the County regarding seniority. Currently the County has a practice of reducing seniority hours for an unsatisfactory evaluation. The reduction is determined by the length of the evaluation period. In other words, if the evaluation covered a period of six months, six months of seniority would be deducted from the employee. Step increases are based on hiring date, so if a member’s seniority is deducted for a six month period, for example, they may not get their next step increase until six months after they would normally have received it. You can imagine what losing six months of seniority could do to your career, especially during the layoffs of the last several years.
In the first instance, a Probation Officer III was demoted based on performance as determined by the Department. Demotion in and of itself is severe punishment. Imagine the Member’s surprise when receiving a notice from the County that due to an unsatisfactory evaluation, six months seniority was being deducted. Justin Buffington of RLS represented the Member during the IA and the Skelly. After receiving the letter noticing the Member of the seniority deduction, the POA contacted RLS.
The grievance filed was based on the premise that the punishment for the perceived non-performance was the demotion. As nothing was noted in the IA investigation or the Skelly regarding the loss of the seniority, we made the argument that it was discipline without due process. Our arguments were successful and the seniority hours were returned to the Member.
In the second and most recent incident, a Member failed to qualify at the quarterly range training and was placed on a remediation plan. The Member successfully completed the remediation. Unfortunately, the Member’s supervisor did an interim evaluation and rated the Member as unsatisfactory. This interim evaluation, however, came in the middle of a six-month evaluation period in which the member received not only a satisfactory evaluation, but was rated as above standard in two of the five rated categories.
After receiving no satisfaction from the supervisor, the grievance advanced to the next step which involved contacting RLS. We filed a formal written grievance on behalf of the Member citing among other facts, that the unsatisfactory performance was remediated and completed within the given time and therefore should no longer be rated as unsatisfactory. We also cited that the six month evaluation mentioned nothing about the interim evaluation and should have taken precedence over the interim evaluation.
For some unknown reason the County really dragged their feet on their response. After reminding the County that their deadline was approaching and that we were prepared to go to the Civil Service Commission, the County requested an extension. The deadline was a Friday. The following Monday morning, having heard nothing from the County, I was in the process of writing an email notification of our intent to carry the grievance to the next step when I received a telephone call. The County Human Resources Director called to apologize for not reaching me on Friday, and informed me that the County was in fact reinstating the Member’s seniority as they agreed that the six-month evaluation took precedence over the interim evaluation.
The Member involved in the second grievance wants to assure fellow members of the SJCPOA’s efforts. It’s not often that these seemingly small victories are touted by local associations, but what goes on behind the scenes on behalf of all the members requires a great deal of time and sacrifice by the leadership.