SEIU 503 loses election at Oregon Judicial Dept.

SALEM — Pro-union workers in Oregon state courts lost their bid to join the Oregon Public Employees Union when the votes were tallied after a May 11 workplace election. In a proposed unit that contained 1,348 eligible workers, the vote was 468 in favor of unionizing and 547 against.

Lisa Siegel, organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 503, OPEU, said most of the employees that organizers spoke with were supportive of unionizing. But Oregon Judicial Department management made it clear to employees that it was not in favor of the union drive, and in the final weeks before the election, managers encouraged all employees to vote.

“There was a certain amount of anger at the Judicial Department,” Siegel said, “but I guess not enough for the majority of employees to want a union.”

The Oregon Judicial Department is headed by an appointee of the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. Still, SEIU Local 503 asked for Governor Ted Kulongoski’s support in getting management to remain neutral. The governor chose not to use his influence, Siegel said.

Siegel said SEIU plans to keep in touch with workers who got involved with the union campaign, both to protect them against retaliation and to begin a new campaign if conditions change for the worse.

Several unfair labor practice charges filed by the union are still pending. An administrative law judge found that it was illegal for management to forbid the use of e-mail to discuss the union campaign, and to forbid employees from having conversations at work about it. The cases are on appeal before the Employment Relations Board of the State of Oregon. A union win won’t change the outcome of the election, but will set a precedent for the rights of other public workers in Oregon and could make a difference in future union organizing campaigns.

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