Monday, June 13, 2011
Rival Factions of ADDA Battle Over Affiliation, Agency
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Ballots due a week from today will determine the future character of the organization representing Los Angeles county’s rank-and-file prosecutors by deciding if the Association of Deputy District Attorneys will align itself with one of the nation’s largest and most powerful public service employees union.
The question of affiliation with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has split the ADDA’s executive board and drawn the ire of some members who question whether a group which describes itself as politically progressive is an appropriate ally for lawyers who represent the state.
ADDA Vice President Marc Debbaudt said he and a minority of the group’s 21-member board favor maintaining the organization’s independence and wanted an “agency shop” vote to be conducted before addressing the affiliation question.
If approved, the agency shop would require all deputy district attorneys who are not already members to join the union and pay dues, or pay a fee for opting out. This, Debbaudt contended, would alleviate the anti-union animus which he believes is prevalent in the office administration, since “you can’t discriminate against everybody.”
Debbaudt emphasized that when the ADDA was certified as the bargaining representative for Los Angeles county’s prosecutors in 2008, “the objective was to create an independent collective bargaining unit,” in accordance with the desires expressed in a survey of county prosecutors. At that time, he said, there was a faction which wanted to have an affiliation with SEIU, but this proposal was “overwhelmingly defeated.”
The prosecutor said he felt the question of affiliation was “more polarizing” than the agency issue, which he characterized as “just having a voice in your own independent bargaining unit.” In light of this, Debbaudt queried, “why affiliate if it could potentially jeopardize agency?”
He further suggested AFSCME’s assistance was not needed, noting ADDA has successfully pursued complaints against District Attorney Steve Cooley and other high-level officials in the office before the county Employee Relations Commission and in federal court.
U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright II of the Central District of California issued a preliminary injunction last March finding the ADDA “established a course of explicit retaliation” by Cooley and his administration that was “both striking and rampant” in his decision ordering them not to discipline or discriminate against prosecutors for belonging to the union.
ERCOM Hearing Officer Thomas Kerrigan also found last November that the District Attorney’s Office had engaged in making periodic transfers of deputies tend to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce” members of ADDA in the exercise of their rights.
ADDA President Hyatt Seligman countered that AFSCME “save[d] our neck” by providing ADDA with money to defray its legal expenses.
He reported that AFSCME had picked up the tab for the $101,625 in attorney fees which the union was ordered to pay in March as reimbursement for the expenses incurred by Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney Peter Burke in defending a judgment that ADDA’s failure to hold annual elections, and the procedures by which its bylaws were amended in 2008, had been improper.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant had agreed with Burke and issued a writ of mandate ordering the union to hold an board election and invalidating the amended bylaws. This district’s Court of Appeal, Div. One, affirmed his decision last October.
Seligman explained AFSCME had made “a loan” of $160,000 extended in exchange for the promise ADDA would hold a vote for affiliation.
If affiliation passes, Seligman said $33.35 of the dues paid by ADDA members–currently $55 to $75 per person–will be paid to AFSCME.
This amount, Seligman said, is the “normal per capita rate” that AFSCME affiliates pay, and will go into AFSCME’s coffers “to pay for the cost of services they’re providing to us” as well as to pay off ADDA’s debt.
“It’s kind of a dual purpose,” he said, whereby “we’re getting a double credit, I guess you might say.”
If agency shop passes, the opt-out fee paid by non-members would also go towards AFSCME, he said, although the exact amount had not yet been determined. Seligman said it will be “somewhere less than” the level of current dues, and set by the board before the agency shop vote.
Seligman said ADDA’s loan would be paid in full after three years, which is the length of time the union has agreed to affiliate with AFSCME, if affiliation passes.
If affiliation and agency do not pass, Seligman said AFSCME will then have to “get in line with our other creditors.” He insisted ADDA “could survive” but “not with the same level of professionalism and expertise” as the group could have as an AFSCME affiliate.
Leslie Simon, organizing director of AFSCME District Council 36, said her group agreed to render financial assistance “to help ADDA survive and become a stronger union.”
She said it was not “usual that nascent unions face the type of legal costs that the ADDA has unfortunately been forced to bear,” and she did not think “there’s anything unseemly about loaning money…to pay legitimate costs that they have incurred.”
Seligman said that ADDA’s “goal from affiliating with AFSCME is to move forward in a positive win-win situation for labor and management where we forego this endless litigation and we step up to true, dignified, mutually respected labor-management relations.”
Seligman credited a labor agreement reached between the union and county last fall as being largely due to the assistance of AFSCME, which voluntarily aided ADDA in the negotiations.
“They’ve been helping us without getting much credit,” Seligman said, explaining affiliation would “solidify that help and make it more formalized.”
He declined to provide a copy of the affiliation agreement to the MetNews, however, saying he wanted to obtain approval from his board and AFSCME.
“I don’t have exclusive control over this document,” Seligman said, adding that he was “reluctant to share it with people outside the union because its really an internal matter.”
Debbaudt chafed at this reticence, remaking that, “when you’re representing attorneys, you might want to treat them like attorneys” and let them review the terms of the affiliation agreement themselves.
Seligman acknowledged “every member has a right to see it,” and this is “a legit issue” he said he intended to address with his executive committee.
“Hopefully we can get it out Monday” on the ADDA website, he said.
Debbaudt declined to produce the agreement when asked last week, saying he felt it would be improper as an ADDA officer to do so unilaterally, but disclosed “several significant benefits” are contingent upon agency shop passing.
Seligman, however, reported that only an additional loan of $80,000 to help ADDA cover its existing debts to its attorneys was contingent upon a favorable agency vote.
Simon said that the ADDA, if it chooses to affiliate, will “gain the expertise of a labor union that has been representing public employees for years,” and “clout that they don’t have as a stand alone union.”
Specifically, ADDA will receive the aid of a business representative assigned to represent bargaining unit members with individual grievances, and handle negotiations and meet-and-confers with the county, she said. AFSCME will also provide clerical support, assistance with lobbying efforts, and research materials for negotiations, such as compensation studies or budget analysis, Simon added.
If affiliation passes but agency shop does not, ADDA will continue to receive these services, she said.
Deputy District Attorney David Berger complained that rank and file ADDA members like him “don’t really know what we’re getting” in the potential AFSCME affiliation since the terms of the arrangement have not been disclosed to them.
“There is no transparency in this so-called union,” he contended, accusing Seligman and his predecessor, Deputy District Attorney Steve Ipsen, of having “hijacked” the group to “use the might of organized labor to fight their battles” arising from their displeasure with their work assignments.
Berger posited that aligning the ADDA with a large organization like AFSCME was Ipsen’s way of “making himself relevant” for his current bid for election as district attorney, noting Ipsen established the group just prior to his last unsuccessful run for the position.
He also said he was opposed to becoming aligned “with a union that doesn’t have members with the same interests and concerns that a bunch of attorneys have,” asserting “there is no commonality” between prosecutors and the county employees represented by AFSCME.
The AFSCME membership include paralegals, research attorneys, clerical workers and some courtroom clerks. Simon said that deputy district attorneys in other parts of the country, primarily in the Midwest, as well as public defenders, are represented by AFSCME affiliates.
“We believe we can help ADDA become the strong powerful union that they should be, and they have the potential to be, to represent their bargaining unit members,” she said. In doing so, “what we get is another group of professional public employees working for the county that need representation, as all of our other public employees do,” Simon said.
She insisted that “the types of issues facing public employees today, whether it’s issues of pensions, issues of compensation, issues of working conditions, when budgets are tight and as workloads increase, are all issues that prosecutors, as other public sector employees deserve representation on.”
Deputy district attorneys “share the interests of other public employees in ensuring there are properly compensated and treated in return for the service they provide their communities,” Simon said.
Former Los Angeles District Attorney Robert Philibosian disagreed with Simon’s stated views, opining that, “deputy DAs get a very good salary and benefits package” at present.
In 1974, when he was president of the ADDA, Philibosian recalls they affiliated with AFL-CIO Local 660 because “that was the only way we were able to get a decent salary and benefits package from the county Department of Personnel.” Prior to the affiliation, the county “simply refused to negotiate,” Philibosian said.
But, he emphasized, “no deputy DA was forced to join,” and there was “no agency shop election or requirement.” The ADDA also disaffiliated after the negotiations ended.
“Generally speaking, professionals should not be part of unions,” Philibosian opined, insisting: “We only did it because we were forced to.”
He argued that “joining a union should not be a requirement to keep one’s job,” questioned “why should anyone be forced to pay a fee” to opt out.
“You shouldn’t be forced to pay a fee to join the union, and you shouldn’t be forced to pay a fee not to join the union,” Philibosian contended.
Philibosian also said he though it was “inherently unfair” that only ADDA members are able to vote for affiliation and “bind everyone” to AFSCME.
Seligman responded that this concern is why the ADDA negotiated for the three year “trial period,” if the vote passes. Having this opt-out provision, which allows ADDA to withdraw by a majority vote in 2014, “protects not only the rights of current members, but preserves the rights of all future members to vote for affiliation before the end of the trial period.”
He explained that “if you join this union, you have a vote right now, and if you join the union later, you have a vote then.”
The agency shop, Seligman emphasized, is an election in which “all deputies, union members or not, in grades one through four, will receive ballots” and will only pass if a majority of voters so choose.
“Agency shop does not make you a union member, it just means you have to pay your fair share whether you’re a member or not,” he said.
“Right now we have the odd situation where the union is responsible to protect and serve all of the deputies whether they are members or not,” Seligman said, “but if you’re not a member you’re not paying for the cost …you’re getting something for nothing, and to remedy that we are strongly working towards winning that agency shop vote.”
A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, saying “it’s a union matter and we can’t discuss that.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company