The bizarre chapter of Dale Washam’s dubious reign over the Pierce County Assessor Treasurer’s Office is by no means closed – Washam’s term does not expire until the end of 2012 – but employees under Washam’s supervision can rest a little easier now thanks to some astute work by your Local Union’s legal department.
Your Union’s case stretches back to 2009. That’s when Washam, Pierce County’s newly-elected Assessor Treasurer, began to implement a series of tyrannical policies that made working in his office all but unbearable. Employee morale plunged. People who spoke up against the new policies were disciplined, demoted, transferred, or terminated.
Under Washam’s direction, the Assessor Treasurer’s Office was in a state of flux. Washam transferred employees to new positions, changed lunch breaks, eliminated flex time, changed vacation requests and scheduling, required employees to attend work-related training “on their own time and their own dime” and proceeded with a number of layoffs. Washam implemented these changes unilaterally without providing the Union with an opportunity to bargain.
The most notorious example of Washam’s new policies involved the creation of an employee “Discussion Zone” that was located within earshot of his office. Any and all work-related conversations between co-workers now needed to occur at that precise location and that location only. Employees who talked about work outside of the designated zone were subject to discipline.
“It had the effect of upsetting all of the employees here, decreasing communication, and putting people on edge,” said 8-year Shop Steward, Jon Hawkes, of the “Discussion Zone.”
Indeed, there were so many contractual violations and the work environment at the Assessor Treasurer’s Office had deteriorated to such a degree that Attorney Jim Smith of your Union’s legal team was compelled to file a 155-page complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) in the case.
Smith’s complaint brought multiple Unfair Labor Practice Charges against Washam, including employer interference and coercion, discrimination and retaliation, bad faith bargaining, and unilateral changes to bargaining unit members’ wages, hours and working conditions.
The case was scheduled for hearing in February 2011. In a mediation session prior to the hearing, Local 117 Staff Attorney Daniel Swedlow, together with Business Representative Jeff Clark, presented the overwhelming case against Washam. “This Union will not stand idly by when an employer makes unilateral changes to the workplace that adversely impacts its employees,” Swedlow said.
Ultimately, the County recognized the preponderance of the evidence and capitulated. Swedlow and Clark had succeeded in achieving a favorable settlement award for all Union members in the unit. The Union’s settlement rectified the worst workplace violations. “Discussion Zones” were removed, and flex time and employer-paid training were reinstated.
“I was pleased and impressed with Jeff and Dan’s work,” said Hawkes. “They did a fine job of handling the mediation - commendations to them. I am hopeful that Mr. Washam now realizes that there are rules, regulations, and established procedures that need to be followed.”
The employees at the Assessor Treasurer’s Officer who were subjected to the most grievous retaliation have filed civil lawsuits against Washam and are seeking monetary damages.