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Ventura County

Fired Director of Union Says He Was 'Ambushed'

Barry Hammitt seeks a review by arbitrators of the late-night dismissal. But an official defends the board, saying vote wasn't planned.

November 26, 2002|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

An internal battle at Ventura County's largest government employee union continued Monday as dismissed executive director Barry Hammitt alleged he was "ambushed" and demanded a legal review of his abrupt termination last week.

Hammitt's attorney, James Farley, sent a letter demanding arbitration to Keith Filegar, president of the Service Employees International Union, Local 998. The union represents 6,500 workers employed by county government, seven cities and several special districts.

Farley wrote that Hammitt, who was fired Nov. 19 after 28 years as the union's top administrator, is entitled to a review of his dismissal by a panel of arbitrators with expertise in labor regulations.

The union's governing board "ambushed" Hammitt, 58, near the end of its meeting by suddenly calling for a dismissal vote, the letter said.

The vote came after several of Hammitt's backers had left the meeting, assuring the two-thirds majority needed to oust his client, Farley said in the letter.

There was nothing on the meeting's agenda to indicate the late-night vote might occur, Farley said. And shortly after Hammitt was terminated, a locksmith "miraculously appeared" to change the locks on the union doors, he wrote.

"It is ironic that Mr. Hammitt, after all of these years of fighting to provide job protection to all of the employees that the union represents, that he would be denied the same things that he fought for," Farley wrote.

Filegar said the vote was not planned.

He defended the governing board's action, saying union bylaws require only that two-thirds of board members present must agree to dismiss.

Filegar said the locksmith was called after the meeting was adjourned. He questioned Farley's representation of Hammitt, because Farley has long been the labor group's attorney.

Farley told the union in September that he was winding down his practice but assured labor leaders he would not "leave them in the lurch," Filegar said. The union has not yet retained other counsel, he said.

"I'm a little surprised that Mr. Farley is claiming to represent Mr. Hammitt when he is still the attorney for the union. He might want to check his canon of ethics," the union leader said.

The union named an acting executive director Monday, labor attorney Jack Futoran Sr. A search for Hammitt's permanent replacement will soon be underway, Filegar said.

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