The State Worker

The State Worker: When unions collide

Since 2012, SEIU Local 1000 has been tangled in labor talks – as an employer, not as California’s largest state employee union.

Now, after Local 1000 recently reached impasse with 135 of its administrative and support staff represented by United Auto Workers Local 2350, the last offer put on the table is going out for a vote. The deal offers a modest raise but rolls back retiree health benefits. Members have rejected similar agreements before.

“Hypocritical,” said UAW 2350 President Joseph Jelincic. Then in the next breath: “Hopefully, we’ll vote for it.”

Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said through a spokesman, “After three years of negotiations and mediation, I hope the staff ratifies this agreement.”

Few battles can be more intense than those in which unions tangle. This tussle dates back years to a split between Local 1000 and an umbrella organization, the California State Employees Association.

SEIU represents about 95,000 employees, the largest of four affiliates in the CSEA. Others serve state retirees, state university support staff and midlevel state supervisors.

The four groups’ interests often clashed. Still, for years they pooled their dues money and bargained with the UAW for contracts covering everyone from office workers to attorneys.

Several years ago, Local 1000 effectively pulled out of CSEA, but UAW continued to represent its support staff. New contract talks commenced. UAW rank and file rejected several offers, including some like the one going out for a vote now.

The agreement mirrors the terms and conditions Local 1000 imposed on UAW staff last month – a 3 percent raise next October, continued full payment to the staff pension plan, equal to “21 percent of each employee’s annual salary,” according to a letter to Jelincic from Local 1000 to notify him that terms would be imposed.

But Local 1000 ended its employer match for 401(k) contributions and, most significantly from UAW’s point of view, stopped its health insurance program for retirees and their dependents. Instead, Local 1000 reimburses up to $600 per month for retirees’ medical costs until they’re eligible for Medicare. Dependents receive no coverage.

The last offer from SEIU included a 1.5 percent raise upon ratification. It’s not much, Jelincic said, but he still thinks there’s a good reason for members to approve the deal.

“We get arbitration back,” he said. The terms recently imposed by SEIU don’t include that dispute-resolution feature, he said, so employees who are being mistreated have little recourse.

It hasn’t been lost on UAW-represented employees that if the bargaining tables flipped, SEIU would fight similar takeaways if proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown or any governor.

“It’s disappointing,” Jelincic said. “We’re helping SEIU defend working people, and they’re doing this.”