San Francisco’s famously progressive and largest public employee union is being accused by another union of contracting out jobs.
Using strikes, protests and political hardball, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 has fought for years against efforts to contract out government jobs to workers who earn less and get fewer benefits.
Now, San Francisco’s famously progressive and largest public employee union is being accused by another union of doing exactly that: contracting out jobs.
The accusation, contained in a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board by a chapter of the Communications Workers of America, has led to a messy intra-labor fight with political undertones in a city where unions hold considerable electoral power.
SEIU Local 1021, a politically active Northern California chapter of the country's second largest union, is deeply involved in several local contests on the Nov. 4 ballot, including supporting Republican BART Board Director James Fang because of his pro-union stance during two BART strikes last year. The union has also contributed more than $161,000 to committees supporting Supervisor David Campos’ bid for San Francisco’s 17th Assembly District seat.
“We oppose, and we challenge, and we picket, and then our own union is contracting out our jobs,” said Daz Lamparas, the CWA shop steward who filed the original complaint in July. CWA Local 9404 represents the organizers and other staff at SEIU Local 1021.
“It’s ironic,” he said.
Local denies charge
SEIU Local 1021 maintains it did not take away jobs from unionized workers, merely hired temporary contractors for specific jobs around election season or to fill in for staff on leave.
“We don’t subcontract,” said Pete Castelli, SEIU Local 1021’s executive director. “We don’t believe in it. We’re politically against it, and we’re not doing it now.”
A document that CWA filed with the federal labor regulators Aug. 26 indicates SEIU Local 1021 contracted with at least seven individual consultants and two organizations since March. CWA contends that six of those contracts amount to “arbitrarily contracting out bargaining unit jobs without notification to the union.”
That includes hiring labor organizer and comedian Nato Green at up to $9,000 a month for negotiations involving nurses in San Francisco and Marin, paying former longtime San Francisco Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond $3,000 a month to work on a quarterly news magazine, and paying People Organizing for Worker’s Rights $150,000 for “representation and bargaining,” the documents indicate.
Minutes from a 2013 meeting of the union’s executive board say People Organizing for Worker’s Rights “is comprised of current and former SEIU members, leaders and staff, as well as local community activists.”
Castelli declined to comment on the specific work each contractor was doing.
Joseph Frankl, the National Labor Relations Board’s regional director in San Francisco, recently ordered the dispute to go to arbitration, and indicated CWA could ask him to review the arbitrator’s award, documents show.
SEIU Local 1021 represents more than 54,000 employees, from custodians to swim instructors, in Northern California, and is heavily involved in campaigns to raise the minimum wage, including Proposition J on the Nov. 4 ballot to raise it to $15 in San Francisco. The union is also a major backer of Campos, who is battling Board of Supervisors President David Chiu for a seat in the state Assembly.
'I am not involved’
Chiu’s campaign sees at least one of the contract hires as a political one designed to attack their candidate.
“After running a $250,000 campaign to try to elect David Campos in the June primary, SEIU 1021 ... took it one step further by putting journalists on their payroll,” said Chiu Campaign Manager Jen Kwart. “It's no wonder that Tim Redmond has been acting as a mouthpiece for the David Campos campaign.”
Redmond, who now runs the online local news site 48 Hills, said his work at the union did not involve politics and was separate from what he wrote for his news site.
“I am not involved in SEIU political campaigns,” Redmond said. “I’m a freelance editor.”
Redmond is also a member of a different chapter of the CWA than the one that brought the complaint. (Newsroom staff at The Chronicle, including reporters, are also represented by that chapter, known as thePacific Media Workers Guild.)
Redmond has sometimes noted on his news site when writing about the SEIU that he contracts with them, but in at least one case, an Aug. 14 story that included a reference to SEIU Local 1021’s role in the Democratic Party’s endorsement fight for the BART board race, he did not.
Redmond, who describes himself as “proudly part of the progressive movement,” said that was an oversight.
“I have never been an unbiased reporter,” Redmond said. “I have always been a journalist with a point of view. ... My agendas are wide open.”