Reformers win key positions in Local 790, but...
June 20, 2003 | Page 11
Report by LARRY BRADSHAW, chief shop steward, Paramedic Chapter, SEIU Local 790; and LORRIE BETH SLONSKY, steward, Paramedic Chapter, SEIU Local 790.
SAN FRANCISCO--Under threat of massive layoffs, Unions representing San Francisco city and county workers have agreed to concessions totaling $80-$90 million. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 790, which represents 9,000 city workers, voted 4-1 to accept a wage freeze, take a 7.5 percent hit to their retirement contribution and to forego all wage step increases for one year. In taking concessions, SEIU members joined firefighters, nurses and the skilled trade unions, all of who have given back millions of dollars in this current round of contract negotiations.
Three SEIU locals--Locals 250, 535 and 790--represent the bulk of San Francisco's municipal workers. The SEIU locals, who represent the lowest-paid city workers, last year refused to reopen their contract and give back 2.75 percent in retirement contributions. This was embarrassing to the mayor and to the heads of the other unions, who had fallen all over themselves to open their contracts early.
So to pressure the SEIU, the "friend of labor," Mayor Willie Brown, sent out more than 800 layoff notices, threatened to contract out work and proposed the elimination of many essential city services. Yet the new deal offers no guarantee that vital city and health services will be protected--and the mayor's office is still projecting layoffs of 350 union members.
To add insult to injury, the cuts are completely unnecessary. Two years ago, the city capitulated without a fight when 52 of the city's biggest corporations sued over the way the city levied its business tax and pocketed $120 million. In each succeeding year, big business saves another $25 million dollars--more than enough to cover the city's projected deficit.
Ironically, SEIU's big giveback will be voted on by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who are awarding themselves a 300 percent pay raise, from $37,585.00 to $112,320.00. Instead of launching a fight over the business tax repeal or challenging the supervisors' greed, union leaders are concentrating their energies on electing this or that Democrat in the upcoming mayoral election.
In a sign that the membership is tiring of this dead-end strategy and is looking for a fighting alternative, the "Unite to Fight" reform slate recently won the Local 790 presidency and 16 of the 25 officer positions in union election. The new officers promise to increase staff accountability, raise the visibility of the Union at worksites, establish direct, two-way communication with the rank and file and to create "functioning, participatory bodies that make real decisions..."
Unfortunately, several of the incoming leaders recommended a "yes" vote on the concessionary contract. Now, many people will be watching to see if the new officers can deliver.
With nearly 30,000 members, SEIU Local 790 is one of California's largest local unions and carries enormous weight within SEIU nationally. By increasing rank and file participation within the union and taking a more aggressive stance against public sector bosses, Local 790 can play an important role in helping rebuild the American labor movement.