After an expensive contract year, state government’s largest union is hiking the fees it charges to employees who don’t want to fund political advocacy.
Service Employees International Union Local 1000 is raising the minimum fee it charges by 6 percent, a figure that’s equivalent to about $5 a month depending on the employee’s wages.
Its internal critics, some of whom have sought to de-fund the union for years, are using the fee hike in an email campaign this month encouraging more state workers to break with SEIU. They’ve sent e-mails and posted messages on the website wearelocal1000.com with titles like “starving the beast.”
“We feel our current leadership is overpaid for the support and services that are provided,” said Rick Frey, a Caltrans analyst who is supporting a dissident group called We Are Local 1000. “We will be in the front encouraging all of the (objectors) to be full dues union supporters once we have leadership that understands and supports its members in representation and contract negotiations.”
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SEIU 1000 dues are 1.5 percent of a worker’s wages, capped at $90 a month. The fees that workers pay if they don’t want to participate in political activity would climb to about 73 percent of full dues, according to a letter the union mailed to employees who are not full dues-paying members.
In California, unions are allowed to charge employees who are not full members for legal and bargaining expenses that benefit the workers they represent.
According to a financial statement, SEIU’s bargaining expenses swelled last year to $13.7 million while it negotiated a 42-month contract that included a general wage increase of 11.5 percent and higher raises for about a fifth of the workers represented by the union. The union members who voted on the contract favored it by a 90 percent margin, but aspects of the deal were unpopular among some workers.
In a statement to The Bee, SEIU 1000 President Yvonne Walker connected the We Are Local 1000 campaign to nationwide right-to-work movements that would weaken public employee unions.
“This is really about a secret, unaccountable group of people, who put out inaccurate and uninformed claims through an anonymous website. No one knows who they are. But their messages and actions are identical to anti-union, right to work forces who are seeking to take away the rights of our members,” Walker said.
SEIU 1000 represents more than 95,000 state employees in a diverse range of jobs that includes nurses, custodians, information technology workers and government analysts. The union earned $63 million in 2014, according to a tax return published by the nonprofit database GuideStar.
Groups of internal critics have encouraged state workers to break with SEIU for the past decade, nudging employees to register as “non-germane objectors” every June.
That phrase means the employee objects to any SEIU union activity other than collective bargaining and does not want to pay for it. They have to register by June 30 or they’ll pay fees at a higher rate.
SEIU critics have also pressed lawsuits against SEIU contesting collection of mandatory dues. One targeting SEIU 1000 over the fees it charges to its critics is advancing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit, argued by attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation on behalf of a group of SEIU critics, seeks to compel the union to better communicate that employees can reduce their charges by registering as objectors. It would require state workers to “opt in” to full membership instead of “opting out” to register as an objector.
A federal judge in Sacramento sided with the union in February, holding that SEIU’s dues collection practices were consistent with past rulings. Attorneys for the SEIU critics filed their appeal a month later.
Ken Hamidi, a Franchise Tax Board employee who has challenged SEIU for a decade, is among the plaintiffs named in the dues lawsuit. He also has consistently encouraged SEIU members to opt out of full dues.
Separately, lawyers in two different right-to-work lawsuits are trying to land cases before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to strike laws in 22 states and the District of Columbia that allow unions to collect mandatory dues from employees who do not want to belong to a bargaining group. One is an Illinois case; the other takes aim at the California Teachers Association.
Both unions tend to support Democratic candidates and causes.
The Supreme Court in 2016 had been expected to rule against unions in a similar lawsuit until Justice Antonin Scalia’s death left the court with a 4-4 tie on the case.