SEIU Local 1000’s top four leaders, including President Yvonne Walker, would each receive from $66,000 to nearly $100,000 in union money if the local’s board approves a new stipend proposal next month.
Currently, Walker and vice presidents Margarita Maldonado, Tamekia Robinson and Theresa Taylor, are on paid leave from their state jobs to work on union business full time. By contract, the union reimburses their state government employers for their wages and benefits. The union does not pay them more for their services.
Although the union work can be demanding, some members say the stipend proposal is self-serving and would financially distance leaders from the workers they lead. Javier Cárdenas, a Local 1000 district president, said that he is suspicious of the proposal’s timing, coming after Walker’s reelection to office in May.
“If she was going to be looking for a pay raise, she should have made it known then,” said Cárdenas, who worked for Walker’s opposition during the election campaign. “If you’re a leader in our union, you’re not in it for the pay.”
Walker says the plan actually “upholds union values and union principles” by setting appropriate compensation for leading state government’s biggest labor organization. The local negotiates for 95,000 employees whose union dues and representation fees each year total more than $60 million.
“If you’re doing the work,” Walker said during a telephone interview, “you should get paid for it.”
The stipend proposal would bridge the gap between the local president’s state base pay (which does not include benefits) and the base wage plus 10 percent of the highest-paying state job represented by Local 1000.
According to state payroll records, the base wage for a nurse consultant last year was $131,465 , the highest pay of any job covered by the local. By comparison, Walker received $48,328 while on union-paid leave from her legal secretary position in the Department of Justice. Had the proposed stipend been in place, Walker would have received nearly $98,000 from the union on top of her state salary, according to Bee estimates.
The proposed stipend for the local’s vice presidents would equal the difference between their pay and the highest-paid state position’s base wage plus 5 percent. In total, the three executives last year would have received roughly $230,000 under the proposed stipend formula.
The Bee’s 2014 estimates are slightly more conservative than what the stipends will be if approved because they do not take into account a modest pay raise that kicked in this year. Local 1000 spokesman Jim O’Donnell said, however, that the calculations are “representative” of how the proposed stipend formula works.
Emails about the proposal have been circulating among members, with some comparing it to a controversial 2011 plan that would have brought total compensation for the president to $150,000 per year and $125,000 per year for the vice presidents. Walker, who distanced herself from that proposal, canceled a board vote on it after Bee news reports about it riled up the rank and file.
“Now she’s trying again,” Cárdenas said.
Walker said that this time the stipend plan is part of a much broader local policy revision presentation to members at meetings around the state ahead of the board’s vote. And unlike the first time, the stipends are based on pay within the local instead of what executives in other locals receive.
“There’s nothing sneaky or secret about this. It’s not about getting rich,” she said. “Even if I had lost the election, this would have been one of the last things I would have done.”