An e-mail deriding a union that represents Orange County welfare workers was sent to 2,000 county employees Tuesday, just weeks before their contract expires.
The e-mail from the chief of employee relations, Susan Paul, said the union was misrepresenting what was happening at the negotiating table and not clearly defining demands.
A follow-up e-mail sent Wednesday said the original message was meant for the upper management of the county's Social Services Agency but was sent to all employees by mistake.
Leaders of the union--the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2076--believe the first e-mail was sent to all employees in an effort to make workers doubt the union's negotiating skills.
The e-mail's author "was trying to undermine our work. That's why the memo talks about our abilities. She wanted the workers to get a negative view of the union," said Teresa Valladolid, the union's chief negotiator.
Paul's boss, Jan Walden, assistant chief executive officer of human resources, said the county made an honest mistake.
"We have been assured . . . that it wasn't" done on purpose, Walden said. "We really want to leave our negotiations at the negotiating table."
The union represents 1,000 workers whose contract expires June 30. The workers are responsible for determining residents' eligibility for welfare and for following their cases as they seek work.
Union organizer Bill Ulloa said he believes that the county would prefer that the employees join the Orange County Employees Assn. because it is less combative. That association represents about 12,000 employees. The county denies that.
The e-mail said that the union "adopted an outdated . . . style of bargaining" and "published what appears to be weekly updates which misquote and/or misrepresent what is occurring at the bargaining table."
The e-mail said the union is focused on "eliminating management's ability to run its operation."
"AFSCME has had difficulty defining or discussing their proposals," the message said. Union leadership wants to force "employees represented by AFSCME . . . to pay dues or service fees to their organization."
Walden said the e-mail "was written in order to tell our managers our perspective on what the status of negotiations are. [Union members] are free to characterize negotiations any way they want."
Union representatives said they asked for a 6% raise for the employees. The county countered with 3%. County officials would not discuss details of the bargaining.
The union has told the county that the workers are having to do more because welfare reform has created increased workloads. Because of the change in the law, workers have to devote more time to their cases, which can number as many as 180, Ulloa said.