Union divisions - Page 2

SEIU Local 1021 fights with employers — and its own employees — over salary and benefit cuts

SEIU Local 1021 opposed givebacks by city workers in last year's contract negotiations.

While Sanchez said she resents being compared to the employers that her union battles, her rhetoric about the need for fiscal discipline is echoed by city officials who say they are already being generous with workers and they can't afford to continue paying salaries that are so far beyond market rates.

"The city has to look at all the costs and be fiscally responsible and prudent," said Susan Gard, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Human Resources. "We don't have the luxury of just looking at what's best for employees."

As allowed by the two-year contract Local 1021 reached with the city last year, DHR did a study comparing local salaries with eight other jurisdictions, finding that positions such as social workers, clerks, secretaries, custodians, and nursing assistants were between 16 and 48 percent above the Bay Area average. So the city is seeking to lower the salaries in 43 job classifications (applied to new hires only) and raise them for four classifications. The proposal will go before an arbitrator for a decision early next month.

Gard said the increases take into account San Francisco's high cost of living and historic desire for pay equity, so most increases are less than half of the pay differentials the survey revealed. "They would all still be above market rates," she said.

But Local 1021 officials say most of these positions had their salaries deliberately increased back in the 1980s and 1990s as part of an official city policy promoting pay equity for jobs often held by women and minorities. Even though that provision was removed from the official City Charter in 1996, they say it remains an important city policy.

"The city is rolling back decades of historic work on pay equity in this city," Daly said. "We were concerned about equal treatment of workers who were disproportionately women and people of color."

To highlight that pay equity issue, Local 1021 is planning a rally on Feb. 14 at noon outside DHR offices at 1 South Van Ness Avenue. Gard denies that the DHR proposal rolls back pay equity advances: "The city is committed to that principal, equal pay for equal work, and we don't think our proposal erodes that."

Sanchez said Local 1021 employees are undermining the union's position in fights like this one, but they say the local needs to recognize and reward their work rather than justifying givebacks by comparing employees to members. "We don't want to play the 'our benefits are better than X-group' games," Nick Peraino, a 1021 researcher and CWA steward, told us. "We work very hard on behalf of the membership."

Sayer accused Local 1021 leaders of arrogance and told us, "There is an attitude problem on the bargaining team and a reality problem on the part of the local," a tone that that Sanchez sometimes mirrored when talking about the CWA campaign against her leadership.

Yet such vitriolic rhetoric may have as much to do with internal union politics as it does a true impasse. The leaders of the revolt by SEIU employees recently tried to decertify CWA and go with more forceful representation, a vote they lost badly but which may have spurred CWA to toughen its approach. Similarly, after SEIU members have accepted some bad contracts in recent years, some members may resent the organizers. Sanchez stressed how Local 1021 is member-led and responsive to the needs of workers, despite the current conflict.

"We want to make this organization good and strong," Sanchez said, "and you can't do that if you're screwing over someone."