I am a new handler here in Northern California. In the short time I have been here, most of the handlers I have spoken with seem to be pretty happy with the way things are going, including getting a raise to $35.00/hr. The management over here has been very accommodating and there has not been any horrible issues that I have seen or heard of. That's not to minimize what is happening on the east coast, but I am concerned as to how unionizing affect us over here, and how effective would it be in achieving your goals?
Are there things I would like changed? Sure there are. I would like to be paid mileage for driving my personally owned vehicle long distances to and from job sites, to compensate for the wear and tear on the vehicle. I think we should be paid more for daily training, maintenance and overall upkeep of the dog which amounts to well over and above what the stipend currently is. But is unionizing the answer? My concern is that compared to the East Coast, we are a very small group and the work load is not even a fraction of what you have out there. Will unionizing ultimately hurt us and make us more likely to being laid off? Additionally, we have received a notice advising that LESOU also wants to represent us. What sets you apart from them and what are the main differences between what you offer and what they offer? I know I come across as not really being interested in unionizing, but that is not the case. I am just sending you an honest portrayal of what I see, and maybe feedback from you what to expect in order to make a informed decision.
Our response is as follows:
We believe unionizing is the only way for MSA to make legitimate quality of life changes for the handlers. Several of us have worked for this company for over ten years. In that time, we’ve been bombarded by two of MSAs biggest slogans, “We’ll get better, we promise” and “If you don’t like it, quit.” This can’t be allowed to continue. Forming a union to represent our interests with the management of MSA is the best chance we have of improving our circumstances.
You’re absolutely correct, you should be paid for millage to and from job sites. Handlers in California have raised this issue to management in the past. You’re forced to transport company property sometimes hundreds of miles outside of the area you believed you’d be employed in yet many times you receive no compensation for millage. Justin Kelley, Vice President of Operations at MSA, was asked this question by several handlers in California. They used a recent lawsuit against MSA by a former California handler to ask if his claims for compensation for millage were reasonable. The handler was forced to drive to San Diego to work when he applied for and was hired to work in the Los Angeles area. Justin’s reported response was, “What does he expect me to do? Fill his gas tank for him?”
You’re also correct you should be compensated for daily training and maintenance of your K9. However, the stipend you receive has nothing to do with being compensated for the time you spend training and taking care of your K9. The stipend is a reimbursement for expenses you incur maintaining company property and which should be reimbursed fully. It can never be used as compensation for work you have performed. We have initiated lawsuits in federal court to ensure that handlers are paid back wages for work they have already performed and that MSA is ordered by the court to begin paying for off hours training and maintenance in the future. We will also be negotiating for an immediate increase of the stipend with automatic increases in the future.
We don’t believe anyone will be laid off if a union is voted in. From the contracts we’ve obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, MSA bills its clients several times the wages you receive. This is why we believe MSA can improve the compensation and benefits we receive and still make a profit. The only reason we can think of as to why they haven’t implemented drastic changes in response to the union effort is because we believe several executives stand to receive a bonus based on the valuation of the company when it’s sold. Increasing benefits and wages would bring the valuation of the company down by increasing operating costs thus impacting their multi-million-dollar bonus.
Law Enforcement Officers Security Union (LEOSU) will also be on the ballot to represent the K9 handlers at MSA. LEOSU is run by Steve Maritas. A google search of his name will show you his past tactics involving union organization. We believe the United Federation of K9 Handlers is the best choice for the sole reason that our leadership is made up of current and former MSA K9 handlers. Whatever benefits and compensation we negotiate for you is exactly what we receive as well. Our bylaws also state we’re not allowed to receive compensation for our duties. That means any dues that are collected will only be used for contract bargaining and the legal defense of our fellow handlers. Regardless of what LEOSU negotiates for you, Steve will continue to receive a salary from your dues.
Thank you for voicing your concerns. We had hoped that the ability for handlers to ask questions anonymously would encourage everyone to voice their uncensored opinions. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, ask us day or night.