Union chief Yvonne Walker speaks at California Democratic Party Convention
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The leader of state government’s largest union is up for re-election this month and two challengers are trying to unseat her by arguing they’d undo raises Service Employees International Union Local 1000 gave to its top leaders two years ago.
Yvonne Walker, the union’s president since 2008, is campaigning as “proven leadership with new ideas.” She's led the union through the lean days of the recession and negotiated a recent contract that gave state workers a base wage increase of 11.5 percent over 42 months.
Walker is running with a slate of three other longtime SEIU leaders. Her challengers lead two opposing slates.
One, called Members for Transparency & Change, is led by a SEIU 1000 bargaining unit chairwoman, Sophia Perkins. Her group wants term limits for executives and it portrays the current leaders as out-of-touch.
The other group is led by Richard Louis Brown, a government program analyst at the state Treasurer's Office.
As presidential candidates, both Perkins and Brown say in campaign materials that they’d wipe out the raises SEIU 1000 adopted in 2016, when it approved stipends for Walker and three other senior union leadership positions. The stipends supplement the SEIU leaders' salaries in such a way that their compensation is comparable to what other large California unions pay their executives.
Perkins’ team called the raises “elitist stipends.”
“We believe your leaders should never put themselves above the members and we renew our pledge to rescind the stipends,” the MTC proposal reads.
Before 2016, SEIU leadership wages were based on salaries the union leaders earned at their government jobs. Walker was a legal secretary whose state wages in 2017 would have been $53,447.
The stipends set the pay for SEIU 1000’s president at the 1,000 highest-paid member of the union. About 96,000 state workers are represented by the union, with a wide range of salaries from nurses to custodians.
As a result, Walker earned about $111,000 last year, according to the union.
California’s largest unions use different strategies to pay their leaders.
Professional Engineers in California Government, for instance, hires professional staff to do much of its bargaining and lobbying. It paid the lobbying firm Blanning & Baker $4.6 million in 2016, according to tax forms.
The California Teachers Association, the state’s largest public employee union, handled $190 million in revenue in 2015. Its president, Eric Heins, earned $200,600, according to IRS forms. Seven other executives at the union earned more than him.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, another influential union, reported paying President Charles Alexander $105,000 in 2015 and Chief Operating Officer David Sanders $205,000 that year.
Nationwide, the average wage for a chief executive of a labor organization is $162,650, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
SEIU 1000 members should have received their ballots in late April. It’s a mail-in election, and ballots won’t be counted if they’re returned after May 21.
For more information, go to http://www.seiu1000.org/local-1000-elections.
Waker’s group has a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/bmp2018.
This story was updated at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 10 to correct Richard Louis Brown's job title.