As of last Wednesday, Cencom employees — and supervisors — were given the go-ahead to be recognized as their own union-based bargaining units.

The final certification came after more than two years of proceedings and over the objections of Kitsap County, which expressed concerns over the havoc two more bargaining units could cause.

The county now has 19 bargaining units, representing 55 percent of its total employees. Several of the units have formed coalitions, bringing the total number of negotiating bodies down to 14.

Labor relations manager Nancy Buonanno Grennan said the high number already overloads staff.

“It becomes a logistical nightmare,” she said.

Until last week, Cencom’s 45 emergency dispatch/support employees and seven supervisors were part of a larger union — Washington State Council of County and City Employees Local 1308. In early 2001, they petitioned the state Public Employment Relations Commission with a request to split into two guilds — one for the supervisors and another for rank and file employees.

They claimed circumstances had changed significantly since the employees first gained representation in the 1970s. They voted 35 to 10 in favor of splitting off, and 39 to six in favor of being represented by their own guild.

“They felt that in the larger bargaining unit their issues maybe didn’t get addressed,” Grennan said.

Cencom employees applied for a similar split back in the mid-80s, but at that time PERC did not feel separation was necessary. The difference this time, Grennan explained, is the extra training and increased responsibilities for Cencom workers.

In its formal decision, Grennan said, PERC stated:

“...their work is complex and their duties are not interchangeable with other positions in the same job classification.”

The PERC rule emphasizes the basic conflicts that arise when supervisors and subordinates sit at the same bargaining table.

Per PERC regulations, no contract changes can be made while petition proceedings are under way. Since 2001, the rest of the county employees signed up for a new health insurance program, received pay increases and started getting their checks every two weeks instead of once a month. Because they were banned from negotiations, Cencom workers still use the old insurance, payroll and compensation packages.

But that can change, Grennan said, as soon as the new Cencom guilds give the word.

“We can begin as soon as they’re ready,” she said.

Yesterday, ballots went out to 54 Department of Community Development employees to ask them if they want to form their own guild. Grennan said the county supports this move because none of the DCD workers have had representation and are in a totally different situation than Cencom.

If the vote goes through when the ballots are counted Nov. 12, the county will have yet another unit to add to its roster — so far, DCD supervisors have not sought their own representation.

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