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Wash. sheriff fights ruling allowing union to investigate CO complaints at jail

Teamsters Local 839 wants access to the jail to meet with their employees to investigate complaints


By Cameron Probert
Tri-City Herald

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Wash. — The Franklin County sheriff plans to continue fighting despite a judge’s ruling that he can’t limit when and how union representatives investigate complaints at the jail.

Visiting Adams County Superior Court Judge Steven Dixon sided with Teamsters Local 839 in their continuing fight with Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond.

The judge agreed the county needs to follow a February 2022 decision set out by Arbitrator Robin Romeo. Dixon is expected to sign an order granting the union’s motion for summary judgment. Raymond told the Herald that he wants to appeal the ruling.

The dispute focuses on a clause in the contract that allows a union representative to “visit the work location of employees ... at any reasonable time for the purpose of investigating grievances.”

The union wants access to the jail to meet with their employees for those investigations.

The sheriff wants those meetings to happen outside of the jail unless they’re scheduled in advance, and the representative is accompanied by a jail administrator into the facility.

The arbitrator sided with the Teamsters, first in February 2022 and then in a later decision in July, where Romeo found the county was trying to circumvent the result of the arbitration.

While Franklin County’s attorney has not weighed in on the issue, Sheriff Raymond said he wants the union to follow his rules around accessing the jail.

“They can meet with their union representative. They can go inside the jail for the purpose of investigating a grievance,” he said. “This literally comes down to (Teamsters union representative) Jesus Alvarez wanting a pass where he can come in and out of the jail anytime he wants.”

The Teamsters do have a nearby union hall where they can meet as well, Raymond said.

“I feel vindicated we were in the right the whole time, like the arbitrator said we were,” said Teamsters Local 839 Secretary-Treasurer Russell Shjerven.

He previously said that other local jails, including Benton and Walla Walla counties, allow union representatives easy access to meet with employees inside the facility.

The visits are needed to maintain safety in the workplace and ensure that the sheriff’s office is not violating the contract.

Visiting the jail

The dispute between the Teamsters and the sheriff started in October 2020, about six months after correction officers picked the union to represent them.

The Teamsters replaced the Franklin County Correction Officers Association, which had been responsible for negotiating the last two-year contract between the corrections officers and the county.

The contract says that union officials can visit the “work location” at “any reasonable time” to investigate grievances.

The union and the sheriff’s office have worked out a new two-year contract since then, which keeps the same language for when union representatives can come in and out of the jail.

For the first six months, Teamsters union representative Jesus Alvarez was allowed to come inside the jail after calling a commander to let him know in advance, according to the arbitrator.

While inside, he met with employees to investigate contract problems, including potential grievances. This included issues such as meal breaks and overtime.

He also met with employees during a disciplinary investigation and a harassment compliant interview.

That changed on Oct. 1, 2020, when a jail supervisor threatened to discipline an employee for alleged insubordination. After the employee called the union, Alvarez went to the jail to speak with the commander.

Five days later, Raymond told his command staff that they would no longer respond to Alvarez’s requests to visit.

At the end of October, the sheriff stopped easy access to the jail for Alvarez. He put a policy in place that required Alvarez to schedule any time inside the jail during regular business hours, and he had to be accompanied by a supervisor.

Union representatives said the move violated the contract and prompted a fight with the sheriff that ended up going to the Public Employee Relations Commission.

The commission brought in Romeo, who found that the sheriff was violating the contract. After the decision, the sheriff rescinded his October 2020 order, and put a new one in place that kept most of the same requirements, arguing all they were required to do was rescind the old order.

That included requiring Alvarez to schedule any trip into the jail ahead of time and to be accompanied by a supervisor.

Romeo rejected Raymond’s fix in July, saying that it was effectively the same policy.

Teamsters also sued the sheriff, the commissioners and Franklin County in an attempt to get him to follow the arbitrator’s decision.


Both sides asked a judge to make a decision based on the facts. The two sides disputed whether or not the sheriff’s office followed Romeo’s order.

According to Andrew Cooley, the attorney representing the county, the sheriff’s office complied by revoking the October 2020, whether or not similar conditions were put in place.

“The Teamsters’ wish to enter the jail unimpeded cannot be reconciled with the sheriff’s duty to inmates, visitors and the public,” Cooley wrote. “The arbitrator said rescind the October 2020 orders, and the sheriff did.”

He called Romeo’s second decision “contrary to the weight of the evidence, arbitrary and capricious and violates public policy.”

The attorney also argued allowing the representative unfettered access into the jail could lead to the county being sued. That could include the labor representative having access to “sensitive criminal justice intelligence” or to confidential inmate information.

The union’s attorney, Jack Holland, pointed out that the arbitrator already rejected those safety concerns saying they are unsubstantiated, and there were no specific instances of security risks being posed.

While Cooley argued that they followed the letter of the decision, Holland said they didn’t follow the spirit of the decision.

“Notably, Arbitrator Romeo found that the union’s ‘ability to meet with the employees has not been restored to the state as they existed prior to October 2020, such was the order and intent of the February 2022 award,’” Holland wrote.

The attorney noted that courts aren’t allowed to determine if the arbitrator made the right decision, just whether or not the arbitrator stepped outside of her bounds.

Holland said Romeo acted within the scope of what she was allowed to to do by interpreting what the agreement was meant to do, Holland said.

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