TUCSON, Ariz. — In what may be the biggest union gain in Arizona history, Pima County employees voted a whopping 94 percent in favor of union representation.

The Service Employees union, SEIU Arizona, is now the authorized representative of over 4,500 county workers. Winners are, among others, mechanics, animal-control officers, maintenance workers and health care and social workers.

With last week’s precedent-setting vote, Pima County employees are the first county workers in Arizona to win union representation that will work to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. Discussions with county management on those issues are expected to begin in the next few weeks.

Arizona has some of the harshest anti-union laws in the country. State law forbids collective bargaining between workers’ representatives and government bodies like cities, counties or public schools. Unions, instead, demand that management meet with them to discuss mutual concerns. When these meetings become formalized, they are referred to as “Meet and Confer.”

Pima County Supervisors unanimously approved a Meet and Confer law in January, paving the way for workers in Arizona’s other counties to organize.

The union campaigned on four major areas: fair wages and benefits, more training, and resources to improve employee retention and improving the quality of services.

Health care coverage will loom large in upcoming talks. A driving force behind workers’ discontent has been the rising costs of health insurance that have eaten up any annual raises.

The overwhelming victory was especially gratifying for the hundreds of county employees who worked on the nearly two-year union organizing campaign.

“You join up to make a difference,” said Tony Phillips, a plant mechanic at Ina Road. “The more members you have, the more bargaining power, the more voice you have.”

pwwinaz @ webtv.net