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Jon Ortiz

The State Worker: SEIU Local 1000 paying back $5 million in wrongfully collected funds

Published: Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013 - 12:18 am
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013 - 11:25 am

Click into SEIU Local 1000’s homepage and you’ll find items touting a new contract with the state, links to news items of interest to members and leader profiles, including one about President Yvonne Walker.

You have to dig a little to find out that the union is making payments to state workers – an estimated $5.1 million – to settle accounts for violating their free-speech rights.

The payouts stem from a dispute that started eight years ago when Local 1000 officials took extra cash from all 90,000 or so state employees it represented at the time. The money funded campaigns against two anti-union ballot measures backed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some of the funds also went to support pro-labor candidates in 2006.

A court fight ensued over whether the local had given employees it represents enough opportunity to opt out of paying the “special assessment.” It highlighted the flip side of union solidarity: Many people the local represents don’t agree with its politics. Some go to the annual trouble of officially declaring their “fair share” status, which means they’re considered nonmembers who pay the union only for labor-related services such as negotiating contracts. Unlike full members, they don’t contribute to union political efforts.

Local 1000 said it gave nonmembers enough opportunity to opt out of the special assessment, but the high court disagreed. Local 1000 put out a press statement blasting the 7-2 ruling as an “attack on the right of public sector workers to act collectively.”

The union began mailing out checks in July to nonmembers it owes repayment. The State Worker learned of it when one of the recipients forwarded images of the envelope and a letter explaining the checks. Local 1000 spokesman Jim Zamora had no comment. (No surprise there. The local stopped talking to this column a year ago.)

Attorney James Young, who successfully argued the case for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, was much more talkative. His name was at the bottom of explanation letter.

According to records filed by Local 1000 that Young has seen, between 28,000 and 30,000 people have checks that have been mailed so far ranging from $18 to $287. The refund amounts vary because the assessment was a percentage of salary and because some employees may have come into or left state service during the 16 months it was in place.

Checks have gone out in last-name alphabetic order, Young said. O through Z remain.

Local 1000 officials are being “conscientious to the degree that they’re able” in sending out checks, he said, and the payment records are filed under oath.

Based on those data, Young figures that about 42,000 nonmembers will eventually get a total $5.1 million back. That’s about $120 per person, on average.

But that’s just a best guesstimate.

“It’s kind of hard to tell,” Young said, because only Local 1000 officials have the figures.

And they’re not talking.


Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916) 321-1043. Follow him on Twitter @thestateworker and read his blog, The State Worker.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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