The State Worker

SEIU Local 1000 union members authorize strike over labor contract

California state government’s biggest union won a mandate from its members to strike if SEIU Local 1000 can’t reach an agreement on a new contract, the union announced Tuesday.

The union said 92 percent of members who voted cast a ballot to authorize the strike.

The strike vote raises the stakes in stalled negotiations over a new contract for a union that represents more than 90,000 workers in a broad array of jobs classifications, from nurses to custodians and general government analysts.

It’s trying to persuade Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to give its members a larger raise than its initial offer of 12 percent over four years.

That raise would be offset somewhat by a new deduction Brown wants state workers to pay to offset the cost of their retirement health benefits. That deduction could climb to about 4 percent of an employee’s salary over four years, according to similar contracts that other state unions have accepted.

The union said the state has also failed to respond to its concerns about civil service reform and gender pay inequities. SEIU Local 1000 members are predominantly women and paid 19 percent less than average for all rank-and-file state workers, according to the union.

“Both sides must negotiate in good faith,” SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said in a statement. “Local 1000 has been and will continue to negotiate in good faith. When the state’s conduct doesn’t meet this standard, it is our duty and responsibility to hold them accountable.”

The union said it’s been in negotiations with Brown’s administration since April. Bargaining resumed Tuesday and will continue Thursday, with additional sit-downs slated for later in the month.

State unions have authorized strikes in the past, including SEIU Local 1000 in 2009. However, none have actually walked out on their jobs.

Last year, California State University sweetened a contract offer for the union that represents its faculty after professors voted to strike. As a result, professors received a 10.5 percent pay raise over three years rather than 2 percent raises the state university had been offering.

Still, state leaders should not assume SEIU Local 1000 is bluffing, said Lamoin Werlein Jaen of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

“The amount of work, preparation and the stakes, I think, are a disincentive for a union to be going through all the steps of doing this,” said Jaen, the Labor Center’s director of leadership development programs.

“It’s kind of like an avalanche. You push up, push up, push up and you run the risk of really falling back and the employer not taking it seriously,” he said.

Before the strike vote, SEIU Local 1000 carried out a series of surveys and town-hall meetings that revealed its members were concerned about the rising costs of housing and child care in the state. They accepted furloughs during the recession, and some members want the next contract to make up for leaner years.

Brown generally offered each union similar contracts this year, but a couple of bargaining units struck better deals in bargaining. Attorneys, scientists and engineers are receiving larger raises.

“We will continue negotiations in good faith with the goal of securing a mutually agreeable contract,” said Joe DeAnda, a spokesman for Cal HR, in a statement. “This includes balancing recognition of our hard working employees, with protecting the long-term viability of retiree health benefits and maintaining the integrity of the state’s finances.”

Fourteen of the state’s 21 labor contracts expired this summer. SEIU Local 1000 accounts for nine of them. The contracts cannot be fully implemented until the Legislature returns in January.

Another union that represents about 12,000 state maintenance workers and electricians has declared an impasse in its bargaining with the state and is heading into mediation later this month. Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12 rejected Brown’s initial contract offer in July.

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