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Commission says it will not support union vote in assessor’s office

MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Commission on Wednesday said it does not believe third-party representation is in the best interest of the county or its employees and it will not conduct an election to determine the union status of employees in the Monongalia County Assessor’s Office.

As previously reported, representatives from the United Mine Workers of America have been petitioning the county commission in recent weeks to discuss representation sought by an unknown number of the 41 employees in the assessor’s office.

Wednesday’s meeting marked the first time the body addressed the matter publicly.

The commission issued a letter signed by all three members rejecting the UMWA’s request to pass a resolution in support of a union election.

Commission President Sean Sikora read the letter, explaining it was penned after extensive consultation with legal counsel.

“We have concluded that we do not have an action as your communication implies. It is the opinion of this commission that employees in the Monongalia County Assessor’s Office have the ability to choose for themselves to support a union, but we do not agree that having an intervening third party to represent the employees is in the best interest of our employees, nor would it be beneficial to the overall governance of Monongalia County.”

The county’s letter is addressed to Michael Payton, UMWA International District 31 vice president. Payton was one of eight UMWA members who attended the meeting and one of two to address the commission.

Payton said he and others feel the UMWA’s requests for dialogue have been stonewalled by the commission office.

“We’re not hiding in the alleys. We’re not boogeymen. We’re not evil people. We’re just a union who are trying to represent the people who freely want to join our union,” he said. “So, as public elected officials, you all ask your constituents to freely vote for yourselves. This is all we are simply asking. We are asking to allow these people who sought us out and collectively want to freely join a union.”

Following the commission’s vote on the issue, Payton audibly muttered, “political suicide,” and later made a show of leading the group out of the ongoing meeting, stating “We wish you all good luck in your futures.”

As he did in April, Assessor Mark Musick told The Dominion Post he doesn’t know how many employees in his office are pushing for union representation as he’s largely kept himself out of the conversation.

Following the meeting, members of the commission said that’s one of the issues they’re struggling with.

“It’s our position that this is a third party coming to us with a request. As far as I’m aware, we didn’t have any employees come to the commission asking us to entertain this,” Commissioner Jeff Arnett said.

Further, Commissioner Tom Bloom said, no action is required of the commission for employees to organize or hold an election.

“Anybody can organize and have an election any time they want,” he said. “We don’t have to approve it.”

The commission also doesn’t have to recognize the outcome of any such effort.

County Administrator Rennetta McClure pointed to West Virginia Code.

Chapter 18 (education), Article 5 (county boards of education) 45a(2), reads, in part, “Public employees in West Virginia have no right, statutory or otherwise, to engage in collective bargaining, mediation or arbitration, and any work stoppage or strike by public employees is hereby declared to be unlawful.”

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