The State Worker

The State Worker: SEIU tests its mojo in CalPERS vote

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

CalPERS board candidate Theresa Taylor has 20 years of financial experience at the Franchise Tax Board and a personal commitment to preserving pension benefits, she says, fortified by watching her husband lose most of his retirement savings.

She’s running in an election that will test SEIU Local 1000’s power to install one of its leaders on the 13-member pension-fund board. Five years ago it backed one of the local’s top officers for different open board seat to represent retirees and lost to a candidate with fewer resources. The member ballots turned in by Sept. 29 will decide who represents state employees on the board – and whether SEIU has regained its CalPERS mojo.

Taylor became deeply involved with the union 15 years ago, she said, after a superior at the tax board criticized her for marking on her time sheet that no one else was available to take care of her kids when they got sick.

“My manager said, ‘You need to make a choice,’ ” Taylor recalled. “That’s why I became a union steward, so no one else would be told that.”

Taylor says that if elected she brings her experience as a tax investigator to boost CalPERS’ transparency and accountability, improve the $300 billion fund’s investments management and, of course, protect pensions that she says are “under attack” by Wall Street and conservative political interests.

Retirement benefits are the blame du jour for what ails governments still recovering from the stock market crash, Taylor said, “and that’s a ridiculous concept.”

Meanwhile, private industry pensions have virtually vanished, leaving workers with bare-bones Social Security benefits and volatile savings for their later years, she said. After the market meltdown creamed her husband’s 401(k), he suffered a career-ending disability. He now gets about $1,000 per month in benefits.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, what if he was by himself?’ ” Taylor said.

While her campaign touts her knowledge and commitment, Taylor’s bid will also gauge Local 1000’s influence. The union formed an independent expenditure committee earlier this year and poured $225,000 into it to back Taylor.

Her own campaign has raised much less, $68,600. Opponent David Miller has collected $20,500.

As of Aug. 24, the SEIU committee had spent about $188,000, most of it for Internet ads and Sacramento radio spots.

Taylor said that the Local 1000 independent committee “isn’t something I know a lot about.” It’s illegal for a candidate and an independent expenditure committee to coordinate. Still, she knows the union has put up nearly a quarter-million for one of their own to win – plus more in untold Local 1000 resources to press a “Vote for Taylor” message to the 95,000 state workers it represents. Will that influence her?

“If I win, I’ll (be there) to represent all state-employee members,” she said. “I’m here to vote in their best interests – which are also my best interests.”

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