SEIU 1021 employees authorize strike as its clash with the city goes to arbitration

SEIU Local 1021 won a good city contract last year using a show of force and solidarity in City Hall and the streets.
Joseph Schell

[UPDATE: The two sides reportedly reached a tenative agreement over the weekend]. Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents most city employees in San Francisco, continues to fight both internal and external challenges, with its own staff employees overwhelmingly authorizing a strike just as the union battles the city over pay equity issues.

As we reported last month, SEIU Local 1021 organizers, researchers, negotiators, and other professional staff, represented by Communication Workers of America Local 9404, have been without a contract since last fall and they're resisting concessions to their pensions and health care benefits that President Roxanne Sanchez and her leadership team are seeking.

After several cancelled negotiating sessions between the two sides (which haven't met since our story was published), CWA last week called for a strike authorization vote that was approved by 94 percent of voting members. CWA Area Director Libby Sayre and Nick Peraino, a CWA shop steward at Local 1021, say the vote repudiates Sanchez's characterization that it is a small but vocal group that is unhappy with management.

“We're very much united in our position and our willingness to do what it takes to get a decent contract,” Peraino told us. Sayre told the Guardian, “There is widespread sentiment they're being low-balled by management.”

The two sides are scheduled to meet tomorrow (Fri/15), and Sayre told us the likelihood of a strike “depends on what management's attitude is tomorrow.”

Sanchez and her core leadership team, including Vice President of Politics Alysabeth Alexander (both she and Sanchez are on leave from their jobs at Tenderloin Housing Clinic) and Larry Bradshaw, the vice president for the San Francisco region, last week won decisive re-election victories, indicating they have strong support from members.

Sanchez didn't return a phone call seeking comment, but Local 1021 Political Director Chris Daly told us that he expects the dispute with employees to be resolved without a strike. “We have reason to believe it's a tactic before they come to settle,” he said. He also questioned how many people voted in the election, and Sayre hasn't returned our call with that follow-up question.

Meanwhile, Sup. John Avalos last week held a hearing before the Land Use and Economic Development Committee on Local 1021's dispute with the city over a proposal by the Department of Human Resources to unilaterally lower the salaries on new hires in 43 job categories. Such changes were allowed in hard-won contract that the union negotiated with the city last year.

City officials say the salaries are too high based on a survey of similar positions in other Bay Area cities and counties, but the union has cast it as a pay equity issue, noting that the jobs are disproportionally held by women and minorities and they were deliberately increased in the '80s and '90s to offset historical institutional sexism and racism.

But pay equity provisions were removed from the City Charter during its 1997 revision, and Avalos has indicated he may sponsor legislation to address the issue. But in the meantime, Daly said appeals to Mayor Ed Lee to weigh in have been ignored and DHR officially submitted its pay reduction proposal to the arbitrator in the dispute on Monday.

So stay tuned, folks, San Francisco's biggest labor union has a lot of the table right now and we'll let you know how it turns out.