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Pinellas transit workers vote to switch unions

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County's transit workers have switched unions.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority employees voted Wednesday to join the Service Employees International Union, ending the era of an incumbent union plagued by infighting and accusations of financial mismanagement.

About 52 percent of the 363 bus drivers, mechanics, customer serve reps and maintenance workers opted for SEIU instead of staying with the Tampa Bay Area Transit Workers Union. There are 469 employees covered under the collective bargaining agreement, so the turnout was about 77 percent and the margin of victory was a mere 20 votes.

Current and former union members filed a lawsuit last year claiming union president Oakie O'Hara failed to hold timely elections as required by union bylaws, didn't give fair hearings for members accused of bylaw violations and failed to account for some $1,550 in gift cards purchased with union funds. O'Hara denied the allegations and the case was dismissed in June due to inactivity.

PSTA and SEIU officials will begin contract negotiations soon, chief executive officer Brad Miller said in a email to his board of directors. SEIU represents PSTA's supervisors, so the two sides already have a good working relationship, Miller said.