Settlement Clarifies Steward Confidentiality

SEA/SEIU Local 1984 Came to Agreement After Union Filed ULP

The state and SEA/SEIU Local 1984 have resolved an unfair labor practice complaint that enshrines the confidentiality rights of Executive Branch employees when working in their capacity as a union representative.

The unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint stemmed from the continued mistreatment of Liquor Commission employee and longtime steward Cindy Sanborn-Dubey. Acting in her capacity as a steward, Sanborn-Dubey brought forward complaints to a supervisor, who demanded that she reveal the source of the complaints. When she refused, she was given a letter of counsel. Sanborn said revealing sources — who thought they were speaking in confidentiality — would make it less likely that workers would ever feel comfortable talking with her again.

“As a steward, people need to know that what they tell you won’t come back to hurt them,” Sanborn-Dubey said. “If people are afraid they’ll lose their job, they’re just going to keep their head down and keep working. I can’t blame someone in that situation, but it doesn’t do anything to improve the situation. People need to feel safe to bring forward complaints without fear of retribution.”

The settlement, which the Attorney General’s Office agreed to late last month, covers the entirety of the Executive Branch. It states, in short, that as long as an employee identifies they are acting in their capacity as a union representative, management cannot compel the employee to reveal confidential information. The settlement also removes the letter of counsel from Sanborn’s file. For Sanborn-Dubey, the settlement was bittersweet.

“I know this is a huge win for the union and for our stewards, but I’m not feeling like a winner right now,” she said. “I’ve been living this for five years.”

Just over two years ago, the state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board ruled that the Liquor Commission had retaliated against Sanborn-Dubey for her activity as a union steward. SEA/SEIU Local 1984 President Rich Gulla, then a liquor store manager, was part of that complaint along with Sanborn and colleague Tony Perras.

“This is a major victory, but it’s also sad because it shows the continual lack of leadership on the part of the Liquor Commission,” Gulla said. “This has been going on for far too long. We need a change, and that starts with members being able to come forward without fearing the consequences. They should be shown respect.  But more than that, we need a Liquor Commission that is willing to hear and work with its valued employees to improve the viability of the stores and the working conditions for the people who keep them running.”

“The Commission generates a lot of revenue for our state,” added Gulla. “Each year sales go up but the profits do not increase by the same margin. Making small changes and incorporating some of the employees’ ideas could increase the profit margin. That can’t happen without personnel changes at the top.”

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