The State Worker: State worker union has its own labor issues

jortiz@sacbee.comSeptember 27, 2012 

A messy fight between California's largest state employee union, SEIU Local 1000, and another union that has represented 160 of its staff has spilled into public view.

As they battle for those workers, the United Auto Workers is calling Local 1000 a hypocritical union-buster. An official with the National Labor Relations Board says SEIU, as an employer, has engaged in "unfair labor practices."

The local rejects the accusations.

The fight 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. Other affiliates speak for 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 staff contracts covering secretaries to senior attorneys.

When Local 1000 left and gained financial independence, it raised a question: What did its new status mean to its relationship with the UAW?

The union local concluded that it needed employees to say who they wanted to represent them.

In March, UAW issued union authorization cards and collected them, but also complained the so-called "card check" was illegal and refused to turn them in. That same month, the unions' pact expired.

The two sides stopped bargaining. Local 1000 gave employees a choice: sign a new non-union job agreement – or leave. All but two employees took the deal.

Local 1000's top attorney, Paul Harris, said Wednesday that the local just needs to know what employees want.

"We stand ready to recognize any union of our staff's choosing upon demonstration of majority support," he said Wednesday.

UAW says it is that union. National Labor Relations Board Director Joseph Frankl agreed in a complaint filed last month.

An administrative law judge in Sacramento heard arguments in the case last week and will probably issue a ruling in 2013. An appeal would drag out the fight much longer.

This latest tussle comes during a rough patch for organized labor and Local 1000 in particular. In June, it lost a U.S. Supreme Court case over member fees it assessed in 2005 and 2006. Two days later, the local accepted a one-day-per-month furlough even though it's under contract.

And Local 1000 is a major player in the fight against Proposition 32, a November ballot measure that bans payroll-deducted money from funding political efforts. Because it would cut off its political funding source, organized labor sees the measure as part of a broad attack on the working class. Local 1000, the fifth-largest donor, has given $2 million to the "no" side.

Now this, a finger-pointing fight that has pitted SEIU against another high-profile union. It's not exactly the definition of "solidarity."

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