FREMONT -- A dispute between two labor organizations vying to represent more than 25 percent of the city's employees has turned bitter and seemingly endless, with both sides accusing each other of misconduct as the case awaits a decision from state officials.
On one side is the Fremont Association of City Employees (FACE), while the other is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 -- and each says it alone has the authority to represent 227 city workers in contract talks.
That wide-ranging group of employees -- the city's largest among its 833 workers -- includes planners, home inspectors, park rangers, social workers, police administrative workers and more.
The two labor groups have been considered one and the same since 1976, when FACE hired SEIU to aid it in labor matters with the city of Fremont. But that seemed to have changed nearly a year ago, when Craig Conwright, a city employee and a FACE member, submitted a petition to the city last November to end FACE's affiliation with SEIU.
FACE leaders said chief among the reasons for severing ties is they wanted to pay less than SEIU's current dues rate, where workers pay 1.8 percent of their salaries to the labor union.
In March, when FACE administered an election, employees voted to separate FACE from SEIU. A few weeks later, SEIU took the case to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), the agency responsible for administering the collective bargaining rights for public employees statewide. There, SEIU filed an unfair practice charge against Fremont, saying the city had violated collective bargaining laws in several ways, such as "unlawfully assisting" FACE members by giving them legal advice.
"The city has been incorrigible, in terms of the weight" they have given FACE's board, said John Stead-Mendez, an SEIU official.
"We have strenuously disputed that" the city gave advice to FACE, said Debra Margolis, Fremont's assistant city attorney. "They're referring to a document, which was public record, that we gave to FACE upon request, as we would with anyone requesting a public record document."
Margolis added: "The city is completely neutral."
The case seemed on the verge of resolution two months ago, when an administrative law judge, Robin Wesley, dismissed SEIU's entire complaint against the city. But SEIU appealed that decision to PERB's four-member board, which now is tasked with giving a ruling, but has no deadline to do so.
PERB then filed an injunction in Alameda County Superior Court, in order to maintain the status quo in the contract between SEIU and Fremont. That contract expired June 30, but the FACE/SEIU employees must continue to pay their dues to SEIU until PERB makes a decision.
That move has Conwright and other FACE officials crying foul, accusing PERB's board of improperly favoring SEIU in the dispute. They say a PERB board member, Eric Banks, is too cozy with SEIU because he worked there from 2001 to 2013. FACE also is accusing PERB's general counsel, Suzanne Murphy, of favoring SEIU because she is a former employee of Weinberg Roger and Rosenfeld, the law firm representing SEIU in the dispute.
"PERB is a neutral agency, and the board makes their decisions based on the law as it exists," Murphy said. "There has not been a decision made on this. We make the best call we can make at each stage, based on the law."
FACE officials say they are frustrated because PERB's heavy caseload might cause it to take up to three years to issue a decision. Even then, lawyers could contest PERB's ruling in the state court of appeals, Margolis said.
Until then, 227 "city employees are paying $21,000 per month to SEIU to do nothing," Conwright said. "They're using our dues money to pay lawyers to fight us."
The yearlong legal dispute has forced Fremont to spend $176,000 in legal fees, and that figure will climb until the two labor organizations reach a resolution, Margolis said.
"Our desire is for city employees to have a choice in who represents them," she said. "Once they choose that group, we'll negotiate with whomever that is."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.