The State Worker

Talks pit union vs. union

Heard this before? An employer insists that its unionized employees swallow retirement and benefit rollbacks, including deep retiree health care cuts.

The union fights back. It blasts the proposals as promises broken. It appeals to fairness. It questions the employers’ commitment to preserving the middle class.

Now the twist: Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents about 95,000 state workers, is pushing for a labor contract that cuts costs. The union pushing back, United Auto Workers Local 2350, bargains for about 150 employees who do staff work for SEIU.

During Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, Local 1000 routinely hammered the actor-turned-governor for suggesting cuts to pay and bennies. An attack on the middle class, union President Yvonne Walker said. Balancing the state budget on the backs of employees, she said. Ill-conceived, unjust and insensitive, she said.

But now Walker, whose staff didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview, is on the other side of the bargaining table. Talks have produced two agreements that UAW members rejected, 50-23 and 38-34, said Richard Rojas, vice president of UAW Local 2350 Central Area.

Here’s how SEIU’s state contracts match up with what the union offered UAW.

SEIU: Employees can accumulate up to 16 weeks of leave (more if management winks at the cap).

UAW: Employees could bank 6 weeks. SEIU cashes out extra hours each January.

SEIU: Last year the state added another 3 percent step raise for highest-paid in their classifications. An across-the-board 2 percent raise kicked in last summer. Another 2.5 percent increase comes July 1, 2015.

UAW: A 1.5 percent top-step raise. A 3 percent raise takes effect Oct. 1, 2016.

SEIU: Traditional pension with the employees’ 8 percent contributions matched by the state.

UAW: Eliminates SEIU’s contribution into a 401(k) savings account to supplement pension.

SEIU: State pays up to 100 percent of retiree health insurance premiums and up to 90 percent for eligible dependents.

UAW: Major medical insurance for retirees with first $600 out-of-pocket reimbursed by SEIU Local 1000. Ends coverage for retiree dependents.

The downgrade to retiree medical benefits troubles members the most, said Rojas, who is not in negotiations. Several are on the cusp of retiring, and there’s a feeling among the rank and file that Local 1000 is bent on breaking a 25-year-old promise that their dependents would get modest health coverage in their sunset years when they need it the most.

“Local 1000 should be an example of how to treat hardworking employees. State workers would revolt if the governor tried that,” Rojas said. “Where’s the integrity? Where’s the solidarity?”

Those are the kinds of rhetorical questions Yvonne Walker used to ask.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043. For more columns, go to sacbee.com/stateworker.

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