Is Larkin Street Youth Services using public funds to fight a union organizing drive?

A flyer posted by LSYS management.

Larkin Street Youth Services does great and important social work with homeless youth in San Francisco, for which it receives generous support from city taxpayers, as well as federal grants. That’s why its employees and some prominent local officials are questioning the organization’s aggressive, deceptive, and anti-union resistance to the request by a majority of its 88 employees to be represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

A majority of employees submitted an organizing petition on April 8, asking LSYS Executive Director Sherilyn Adams to honor the request and recognize card check neutrality, as other local city-supported nonprofits have done, such as Tenderloin Housing Clinic. But SEIU organizer Peter Masiak said Adams refused to even discuss it, leading the National Labor Relations Board to set a mail-in ballot election that begins May 21.

“That was two months she was able to buy by forcing this election,” he told us.

Adams and LSYS management have used that time to try to undermine the organizing effort with staff meetings and mailers that criticize SEIU in particular and the labor movement in general, using misleading scare tactics about the costs of organizing.  

“In my view, if employees become represented by a union, our organization will be significantly impacted, and not for the better,” Adams wrote in an April 23 email to staff announcing the NLRB election. LSYS management has also posted flyers with inaccurate information on the costs of joining the union and dated information about a contentious contract impasse between Local 1021 and its workers that has [since been settled. CORRECTION: Local 1021 workers rejected that settlement, with negotiations scheduled to restart May 21].

“They have been engaged in an anti-union campaign and hired outside counsel to fight this,” Masiak told us, noting how inappropriate such actions are for an organization that gets the vast majority of its funding from government grants. “I think it’s a misuse of these funds.”

Some public officials agree, including Assembly member Tom Ammiano and Sup. John Avalos, who have written letters to LSYS criticizing the tactics and urging Adams to recognize the union.

“Their desire to have a voice on the job and develop professionally in a supportive environment should be celebrated by LSYS management,” Ammiano wrote to Adams on April 30, noting his long history of advocating for increased city funding of the organization. “Unions are an important voice for employees regarding salary, benefits, working conditions, and many other issues. I strongly encourage you to accept card check recognition, to remain neautral during your employees’ organizing efforts, and not to use public funds on anti-union attorneys or consultants, so that your employees may make their own decision on whether or not to form a union.”

Eva Kersey, who works in LSYS HIV-prevention programs and helped organize the union drive, said it was driven by concerns about low wages, poor benefits, and the belief that “we don’t have a meaningful voice in how our programs are run,” she told us.

Kersey said she was disappointed at how management has reacted to the organizing drive. “What was most surprising is the general lack of respect we’ve gotten as workers and an organizing committee,” Kersey said, citing belittling management statements about how employees were being manipulated by the desperate union. “We’ve put a lot of work into this and put ourselves out there in a lot of ways.”

But Kersey believes support for the union has only grown and that LSYS employees -- who are used to cutting through the bullshit they hear from troubled teens -- haven’t been swayed by the speeches, flyers, and emails from management.

“I don’t think they’re very effective. They’re pretty one-sided,” Kersey said.  

Adams did not return our calls for comment, but had LSYS spokesperson Nicole Garroutte respond by asking for questions in writing, and we provided a list raising the issues and concerns expressed in this article. She didn’t answer the questions directly but offered this prepared statement: “Thank you for your interest in Larkin Street and, in particular, the election process that is currently underway. Out of respect for all of our employees and to help ensure a fair and independent process, we will confine our response to reaffirming the high degree to which we value our staff and the faith that we have in their ability to make informed individual decisions regarding the election. We recognize that there are expected differences of opinions regarding the preferred labor-management model, but we are confident that we all share a mutual passion for our mission and, most importantly, for assisting to our fullest potential the vulnerable clients we serve. We would be happy to talk further after the election process is concluded.” 

Masiak said the ballots will be mailed out May 21, they must be returned by June 5, and they will counted June 6.


Really wish you could approach an article like this with more balance. Have you 100% confirmed that the organization is using public funds? It has a fair amount of private funds which helps the organization do its critical work - helping youth stay off the streets and, more than that, get education and earn jobs. this reads like an opinion piece, not journalism.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 7:58 am

I tried several times to discuss these issues with Adams, and she chose to issue an unresponsive statement rather than discussing these issues with me. The vast majority of LSYS funding comes from taxpayers, so it seemed like a reasonable question to pose in this article. If Adams had discussed that and other issues with me, perhaps the article would have seemed more balanced. But with prominent local officials raising the public funding issue, I'm not going to let her resistance stop me from airing that issue.

Posted by steven on May. 17, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

If you check the LSYS annual report, you will see that their NON-public funding amounted to $4.4 million in 2011-12. That's hardly anything to sneeze at. While you are correct to point out that the majority of their funding is from public sources (about $9.5 million), perhaps you should consider the raw numbers and the very real possibility that the money being used here is coming from a NON-public source.

I second the above opinion that this is bad journalism. This is merely an opinion piece that claims to blow the whistle on something that the author has no legitimate proof of. Get your facts before making claims.

Posted by not so fast on Jun. 03, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

You might be new here, Guest. When the SFBG writers (in particular Steven Jones and Tim Redmond) decide that they want to "get" someone or something they always publish an article with an accusatory headline like this one. Then you read the article and there is little or nothing in it to back up the headline.

Nothing illegal, of course, but it is obviously high level sleaze to take these cheap shots while claiming to be "journalists".

Luckily, very few people read this stuff for reason other than laughs and new people, like yourself, usually figure it out after a few paragraphs.

Posted by Troll on May. 17, 2013 @ 9:03 am

I wonder how long the corporate owners of the Guardian will put up with this juvenile, old fashioned phony "journalism" that went out of style in the 1970s. After all, it was a money loser before, I can't imagine that the corporate ownership will put up with losing MORE money because these two can't write worth a sh*t

Who wants to take bets as to the date of an announcement when both are replaced by out of town folks from New York or Los Angeles by corporate management?

Posted by Guest on May. 20, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

just biding their time, sitting tight, and hoping to eke our their nice earner long enough to have some half-decent pension rights. You can tell their articles are half-hearted with little real vigor or credibility.

And they should worry as both are clearly unemployable elsewhere.

Tim has a home with equity and a wife who's a lawyer, so maybe he will just hang out afterwards and wait for social security. Steven? Not so blessed, but at least he's got his pot and his nightclubs to dull the pain.

Posted by Guest on May. 20, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

I am a very liberal person and I support unions when they are indeed needed. I am married to an employee of LSYS and I can tell you that a lot of what SEIU 1021 is telling other employees is false information. For instance, the $1M surplus they have in the bank. Most employees don't realize that as a non-pofit company, LYSY does not receive their Grants from both private and government agencies until after they have spent the money on it. The surplus is needed to pay that month's rent and after they send invoices out, they get that money back and it is used to pay the next months bills, it is a cycle. They do not have a surplus of unspent money, it is actually used for the services that LSYS provides to San Francisco. Another point to make is that many employees are speaking out saying LSYS doesn't have any process or program that listens to their employees. Well, it just so happens that they have an Employee Action Committee (EAC) that acts as the direct link to LSYS Senior Staff. It is composed of actual Employees and not senior staff. I know this because my wife is on this committee. This committee's main purpose is to provide a forum for employees to report harsh work environment, poor pay, and poor benefits. In fact, before my wife started working there, that committee got a raise for all of the counselors and most of them didn't even realize that the EAC was the direct reason for the raise. Again, LSYS has a group of employees who's sole purpose is to help the employees of the company for the better, If you don't like what you have, speak up and tell the EAC!! The fact that the majority of LSYS is trying to unionize without even giving their company's resources a chance is so idiotic. Another point to bring up is the benefits and pay. Where do you think this money is coming from? Thank of LSYS total budget as a pie. Employee pay is apart of this pie, if you make the slice make another slice smaller. Those smaller slices are what fund the housing across the city, they provide the healthcare and support lines for the youth of this city. LSYS was indeed in a deficit this fiscal year and it was due to funding cuts and grant distributors backing out. Again, I am a fan of unions when in fact they are needed to help the workers. I am not a fan of unionizing when the employees don't understand where the money comes from or how it is supposed to be used. Ignorance for how your company manages its finances is not a reason to fight for a union. Failing to utilize their resources and seeing if they can actually help you (ie: pay, benefits, etc) is not a reason to unionize. Clearly this one-sided article is full of shit. The sad thing is that if this vote supports the unionization, we will have to pay for this regardless if we want it or not. It is unfair to the employees who have to problem and are completely satisfied with the benefits that each and every worker receives equally. I bet most of them don't realize that they are receiving the same health care benefits as the CEO. Like they say though, ignorance is bliss.....

Posted by Guest on May. 28, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

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