SEIU Local 1021 fights with employers — and its own employees — over salary and benefit cuts
Service Employees International Union Local 1021 strenuously resists the wage and benefit givebacks regularly demanded in recent years by employers, including the city of San Francisco, which is now trying to slash the salaries for more than 40 city job classifications.
At the same time, Local 1021 is asking its own employees for benefit givebacks during new contract negotiations, a move that their own union is blasting as hypocritical.
That has squeezed Local 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez and her leadership team into a difficult position. They must fend off a revolt from staff that is turning vitriolic, without offending members who are in some cases worse off than the SEIU employees who represent them — all without weakening the union's position at the bargaining tables with employers that relentlessly work to undermine the labor movement.
And they have to do it in the middle of an internal union election that they need to win to stay in power.
"The irony here is SEIU works assiduously to avoid takeaways in their contracts with employers and here they want givebacks from their own sweatshop-type working conditions," says Libby Sayre, area director for Communications Workers of America Local 9404, which has represented SEIU Local 1021 employees since an internal reorganization in 2007. "It's time for them to put some of their union principles into play."
Local 1021 is proposing to increase how much employees pay for one of their health plans, eliminate the 401(k) pension match, and change some work rules, while keeping salaries where they've been stuck for many years. Employees say the givebacks total $416,000, and they're coming even as the union maintains healthy reserves of about $11 million (the union says that level is now closer to $9 million).
"These are proposals they wouldn't accept from an employer and they're trying to impose them on their own employees," Sayre told us. "It's not justifiable. It's not like this is a union in collapse."
Yet Sanchez and her team, including Political Director Chris Daly, say the internal revolt led by a small number of disgruntled employees misrepresents how good the workers actually have it, particularly compared to members who have endured severe layoffs and salary and benefit cuts in recent years. Employees have another generous pension on top of the 401(k) (paying 2.5 percent of final salary per year worked), employer-paid health benefits (costs would go up for the PacificCare plan, but not Kaiser), normal step salary increases, and bonuses in lieu of raises in each of the last two years.
"Our staff has not given up anything," Sanchez said. "They saw us cut the board's budget by several hundred thousand dollars before we asked for anything."
She said that with dues revenue falling along with membership numbers, and pension and health care costs rising steeply, the union can't afford to keep dipping into its reserve funds, as it has in each of the last two years.
"We're asking them to give modestly to their health care costs, and that we don't pay for that second pension," Sanchez said. "We are not balancing the budget on their backs, like what gets done with us."
While both Daly and Sanchez admit the local has healthy reserve funds for its budget level, they say that's necessary for the union to project strength, whether it be threatening a strike at the bargaining table or taking on ballot measures that would cripple the labor movement, such as last year's Prop. 32, which the local dug into its reserve funds to fight.
"If we didn't have healthy reserves, we'd be coming at them for more [givebacks] and doing layoffs," Sanchez said.