While some unions are fighting merely to exist in Ravalli County, one union is quietly petitioning to split in two, a plan that is finding acceptance from both its members and its employer—Ravalli County itself.
Currently, the Montana District Council of Laborers AFL/CIO represents one union consisting of sworn deputy sheriffs, the sheriff’s office clerical staff and workers at the detention center. But the jailers have requested the right to form their own bargaining unit. According to a petition filed by union representative Susan Wortman, state law affects the two groups very differently, and the bargaining needs of the two groups are also different. The deputies and clerks agree that the jailers would be better off to form their own group.
The main problem facing the proposal is that the union and the county have already entered into contract negotiations. Such splits may not take place while negotiations are underway.
Ravalli County Chief Financial Officer Don Klepper is negotiating on behalf of Ravalli County. In a meeting with the county commissioners last week, Klepper told the group that the union split would be beneficial for everyone involved. He suggested that the opening point in the negotiations be that the union division be approved by all three parties—the county and the two bargaining groups.
Although it means the county will be bargaining with four union entities rather than three in the future, it also means that union contracts can more closely reflect the needs of each group of workers, Klepper says. The downside is that bargaining will take additional time and could cost more if the county commissioners have to hire an outside negotiator.
The commissioners directed Klepper to negotiate the split as the first item in the negotiations. Once the split has been approved by all parties, additional negotiations with the two individual groups will continue.