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Split in deputy sheriffs' union moves closer

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The possible breakup of an influential law enforcement union is a big step closer to becoming reality. County attorneys recently granted a vote over whether to “decertify” the San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, rejecting a challenge from the group’s attorney.

In a March 4 letter, Assistant County Administrative Officer Gail Wilcox informed Patrick Zuchelli, a leader of the overthrow effort, that the county had approved a petition seeking the vote. Zuchelli was runner-up in a vote on union leadership last year.

If successful, the move would effectively divide a union that is a countywide political power into two parts, with sheriff’s deputies moving into a stand-alone, new union to be called the Association of San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs, and correction workers and non-sworn sheriff department employees in the other.

Current DSA President Dale Strobridge said his union is considering an appeal of the county’s decision.

Either way, he argues a breakup would be a bad idea because a split would decrease the bargaining power of the deputy sheriffs, and force them to renegotiate their contract, mid-term, during an “austere financial time.”

 Asked what he thinks is behind the attempt, Strobridge said he believes the primary impetus was the DSA’s decision to back Cal Poly lecturer Adam Hill in his successful bid for county supervisor over the incumbent, former San Luis Obispo police officer Jerry Lenthall.

“I think the primary organizers of this attempt to bifurcate were ardent supporters of Lenthall, and they disapproved of the Adam Hill endorsement,” Strobridge said.

Deepening the matter, both Lenthall and Strobridge have been discussed as potential candidates in a 2010 race for sheriff. Current Sheriff Patrick Hedges has announced he will not run again. 

Zuchelli did not immediately return a call 
for comment, although other supporters of the split told New Times many members came to view the union under Strobridge and fellow leader Tony Perry as overly focused on politics at the expense of rank-and-file concerns.

The DSA describers itself as the county’s largest law enforcement union, representing 270 employees ranging from evidence and property officers to correctional workers to deputy sheriffs.

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