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Did a California union use open records law to intimidate workers?

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Three aircraft will be used for aerial insecticide spraying over south Sacramento neighborhoods and Elk Grove on Monday evening, July 23. The spaying will target mosquitoes where high levels of West Nile virus have been discovered.
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Three aircraft will be used for aerial insecticide spraying over south Sacramento neighborhoods and Elk Grove on Monday evening, July 23. The spaying will target mosquitoes where high levels of West Nile virus have been discovered.

A public employee union that tried to swat management with a Public Records Act request earlier this year now is facing an unfair labor practice charge from three mosquito abatement workers who say they felt intimidated.

The field technicians from the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District were disturbed by a records request from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3 that sought emails with keywords such as “union,” “decertify,” and “how to get rid of union,” according to a labor complaint they filed.

They’re getting help from the National Right to Work Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to curb union power, in pressing their case at the state’s Public Employee Relations Board. The foundation, which has sued California public employee unions over membership issues in the past, filed the complaint last week.

The foundation alleges the union illegally tried to intimidate field technicians Ryan Wagner, Brett Day, and Mark Pipkin because they were considering an effort to decertify the labor organization. The workers were not union members.

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“This case shows that union officials will go to any lengths to try to trap workers under a union monopoly they oppose,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in a news release. “Apparently, IUOE union bosses are so fearful of letting workers vote on unionization that they are willing to harass and attempt to intimidate workers whom they claim to ‘represent.’”

Tim Neep, the union’s director of public employees, said the organization submitted the records request to help it assess whether managers were interfering with the labor organization.

Gov. Jerry Brown a year ago signed a law that forbids managers from discouraging workers from joining a union. It was one of several labor-friendly laws the Legislature passed over the past two years to help unions recruit and retain members in anticipation of a recent Supreme Court decision that weakened public employee unions by forbidding them from collecting mandatory fees from workers who did not choose to join them.

Neep said the union wanted to find out whether managers were communicating with rank-and-file workers in violation of the new state law. IUOE represents about 40 workers at the mosquito control district.

“We don’t believe we violated any employees’ rights,” he said. “We definitely respect (the employees’) position in not wanting to be union members.”

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