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  • Here’s a unique approach to free riders

    SCOOP: Controversy mars SEIU leadership election for California state workers
    by C.M. Lewis

    https://www.thestrikewave.com/original-content/controversy-seiu-leadership-election-for-california-state-workers?fbclid=IwAR05d8at1QFV1HVBz1DbSOVTCthLbWMXlVGkKPq6_YlNxUP5NuOUEBAfYuY&link_id=7&can_id=09c0beb175eeb80c47e76fb2601425f8&source=email-the-dream-of-a-unionized-new-orleans-is-coming-true-the-afl-cio-doesnt-want-to-talk-about-police-reform-3&email_referrer=email_1195891&email_subject=nycs-delivery-drivers-want-employee-status-and-nothing-less-death-and-texas

    Evidence uncovered by Strikewave reveals questionable campaign activity during the recent SEIU Local 1000 election, which saw long-time incumbent President Yvonne Walker unseated in an upset election loss to Richard Louis Brown, a military veteran and Associate Governmental Program Analyst with the State of California. The allegations of vote-buying adds a new dimension to an election already marked by the President-Elect’s controversial views on the role of unions.

    Statements on social media indicate that Brown offered to pay for state workers to vote in the election, raising questions about the surprising election results. Brown won an upset victory over incumbent Yvonne Walker, with KPIX reporting that he won 33% of the vote to Walker’s 27% in a low turn-out election. According to posts made on Brown’s personal Facebook on April 16th, Brown states that “I offered to pay for you to vote . . . [and] I have offered many people the same thing[.]” He goes on to state that he never told recipients of funds who to vote for, and offered money because voting “is that important to me[.]”

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    The member addressed in the Facebook posts clarified after inquiry from Strikewave that Brown had offered to pay dues for individuals who had left or were considering the union. In an interview with Strikewave, Brown hit back against criticism, characterizing restrictions only allowing dues-paying members to vote as “voter suppression.”

    “As a Black man in America, this is voter discrimination, it’s voter restriction, it’s voter suppression,” said Brown. “Voting is so important in our country that with this election, if someone didn’t want to pay, I’d pay for them to vote.” Unions commonly reserve the right to vote on leadership and contracts to dues-paying members, though when asked, Brown stated he felt this was a problem specific to Local 1000. He further pointed to lottery scratch-off tickets allegedly offered by supporters of Yvonne Walker—a claim he also made on social media in April.

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    Other candidates for election, like current Vice President for Bargaining Tony Owens—who also ran against Yvonne Walker for President—agree with Brown that other violations occurred, but also believe that Brown’s offers to pay dues crossed the line. “I believe that vote buying is illegal,” wrote Owens in an email to Strikewave. “I think it is harmful to the democratic process and invites corruption.” Owens has filed a post-election protest pointing to irregularities, including eligible voters not receiving ballots.

    Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Menager—who ran for Vice President of Bargaining as part of an opposition slate—bluntly criticized characterizing membership dues as a “poll tax.” “Equating union dues to a poll tax shows either a ridiculous level of ignorance or a calculated political play on emotions,” wrote Menager in an email to Strikewave. “Requiring membership in an organization is the most basic requirement for participation in it.” He also called paying membership dues so workers could vote “inappropriate,” though he stressed that he had no knowledge of Brown explicitly asking for support in exchange for payments.

    Whether the alleged conduct is prohibited is unclear. According to a copy of the Local 1000 Policy File obtained by Strikewave, offering money in exchange for voting, or offering to pay a member or nonmember’s dues, is not expressly prohibited. However, the SEIU international Constitution & Bylaws prohibits candidates for international or local office from soliciting support from nonmembers.

    Election conduct isn’t the only point of controversy in the fallout of the leadership election. In his interview with Strikewave, Brown spoke of elements of the Janus vs. AFSCME ruling approvingly, pointing to Justice Samuel Alito’s comments widely read as an invitation for legal cases challenging the right of public sector unions to bargain for all represented workers, called “exclusive representation.” Janus vs. AFSCME was a devastating decision for organized labor, imposing nationwide right-to-work on the public sector.

    When asked, he agreed that he supports ending exclusive representation for public sector unions, stating that the union controls wages and working conditions for nonmembers and that they “shouldn’t be represented by the union if they don’t want to be represented by the union.” Anti-union groups—including the Freedom Foundation, a Koch-funded group which regularly attacks Local 1000—have supported or filed numerous challenges to public sector exclusive representation since the Janus ruling. None have been heard by the Supreme Court.

    In response, Owens stated he was familiar with Brown’s position and “could not be more strongly opposed” to Brown’s view of exclusive representation, pointing to the negative impact of the Janus decision, which “sought to weaken the power of organized labor, and in effect, silence the voices of working people.” Menager also disagrees with Brown’s position, noting that “Ending [exclusive representation] ends organized labor in that workplace.”

    Political activity by Local 1000 has proven an even greater point of controversy. Within days of his election, Brown told Fox News that he opposed Governor Gavin Newsom in California’s recall election after campaigning on ending political activity by the union. SEIU’s California State Council, which declined to comment for this story while officials look into the matter further, moved quickly to issue an endorsement of Newsom.

    The possibility that Local 1000 could stay out of the recall election, or oppose the Governor, has allegedly precipitated a power struggle during the transition period. Multiple sources indicate the union’s leadership has responded by calendaring an emergency Board of Directors meeting for June 2nd to discuss endorsing Gavin Newsom and donating $1 million to his recall campaign; although Strikewave confirmed that an unscheduled meeting has been calendared, it was not able to independently verify the meeting’s agenda. California’s campaign finance laws typically limit direct donations for gubernatorial campaigns to $32,400, but an exception exists for recall campaigns.

    The controversy, and the existence of several post-election protests, throws the results and Local 1000’s future into doubt. Brown has assured supporters that he will be sworn in, though he doesn’t expect it to be easy. “There’s an effort being made where they’re gonna say, we’re not going to swear him in,” said Brown in his interview. He further claimed that an opponent made a fraudulent 911 call to his home the morning following the election alleging that a woman was screaming, resulting in a police response.

    “I guess my Black life doesn’t matter,” said Brown, observing that although his interaction with the police was cordial—he noted that “there are a few bad apples”—it could have gone differently. Brown has strongly opposed the union’s support for the Movement for Black Lives, telling Strikewave it was similar to donating to the Oathkeepers, a far-right militia group.

    Brown’s conduct during and after the election has caused controversy, which Brown himself has acknowledged. Some, like Kevin Menager, are hopeful that he may temper his approach upon taking office. “Mr. Brown’s ill-advised statements prior to taking office are a minor embarrassment,” said Menager. “However, once in office, I hope he will receive more experienced advice.”

    Whether Brown takes office remains to be seen. The results of post-election protests remain unclear, and it is uncertain whether SEIU—Local 1000’s international affiliate—will intervene. SEIU did not respond to a request for comment on whether they were conducting an investigation of the election. A copy of the affiliation agreement between Local 1000 and SEIU obtained by Strikewave suggests intervention by the international may be difficult, as under the terms of the agreement, Local 1000 maintains unusually wide autonomy.

    Brown expects trouble from SEIU one way or another—a sentiment he expressed in one of his many Facebook Live videos. “The international is going to run me ragged,” he said. “That’s what they’re gonna do, so when they come after me, and they try to tell you, vote him out, don’t do that.”

    Meanwhile, some California state workers are watching Local 1000’s new president-elect nervously, pointing to a history of anti-vaccine comments and outlandish social media behavior, drawing multiple comparisons to former President Donald Trump. Workers on a SubReddit for state workers characterized Brown as “batshit crazy,” as “stupid, crazy, or both,” a “crazy anti-vaxxer,” and a “Trump-loving anti-vax from the cheap seat idiot[.]”

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    Although Brown has called for unity, the focus of his recent comments has been opposition to Governor Newsom, calling him a “spoiled rich kid.” Other comments made by Brown hint at further conflict within Local 1000, regardless of appeals to unity and opposition to “divisive” politics.

    “A war is coming,” said Brown in a Facebook Live video. “Prepare yourself. I’m preparing myself.”

    C.M. Lewis is an editor of Strikewave and a union activist in Pennsylvania.

    June 1, 2021

    William M. Barry
  • More Than 3,000 Federal and D.C. Government Workers Joined Our AFGE Family in April!
    May 10, 2021
    Categories: The Insider, Organizing
    More and more government workers are joining AFGE!

    Our union just wrapped up our best month of organizing adds since March 2020 with 3,031 new members in April. Congratulations to all on this huge milestone! Our NOW organizing targets are not only achievable, we could very well hit those objectives ahead of schedule if we keep our focus and momentum.

    ‘Organizing is a way of life’

    Local 2054 was one of the locals that gained new members in April.

    For the local that represents Veterans Affairs employees in Little Rock, Ark., organizing is the focus of everything they do. For the last two weeks in April, Local 2054 gained 30 new members at two New Employee Orientation (NEOs) – a big feat considering how the local had been shut out of NEOs during the Trump administration and was fighting just to stay afloat.

    NEOs have always been their lifeline. To offset attrition, like retirement, the local has been using the NEOs to introduce new hires to AFGE. Union reps tell new employees about the benefits of joining the union over sandwiches and pizzas provided by the local.

    “NEOs are like our stabilizer,” said Local 2054 President Barbara Whitson-Casanova. “When we lose people through attrition, we pick it back up in NEOs.”

    To illustrate the point, the local lost about 100-150 members over the last three years due to attrition, but it brought in 50 new members just during the last three NEOs. At the first NEO they were allowed into, they got 19 new members out of 20 attenders.

    Local 2054 is one of the largest locals in the VA. It has about 1,900 members out of the bargaining unit of 2,500. Considering the hostile environment they were in during the Trump administration, the local didn’t lose a lot of members, and there were good reasons for it.

    “We lost very few members. If we have to sum it up: We do what we say we’re going to do and we remain visible,” Whitson-Casanova explained.

    By remaining visible, she means donating microwaves and refrigerators to be used in breakrooms with big signs that read, “Donated by AFGE Local 2054.” Or sponsoring a quarterly awards ceremony and having the VA publicly announce, “Thanks to our partner AFGE Local 2054 for providing the pizza.” Or giving $250 to a group of Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) to build a garden for veterans to work with and learn about flowers and having a sign at the garden that reads “Flowers donated by AFGE Local 2054.”

    “Organizing is not a separate activity. Everything we do, we think about organizing,” she reiterated. “Organizing is a way of life.”

    The local has an immediate goal of getting back to 2,000 members. It also wants to reach 2,500 over the next three years.

    “It’s a very aggressive goal, but I think we can do it,” she concluded.

    Bill Barry
  • Counter their lack of accurate information.

    Them: I don’t need to join the Union. You have to represent me anyway.
    Me: To a point, yes in the Federal service we do have to represent you where we are the exclusive representative. But guess what? We are not the exclusive rep for discrimination, workers’ compensation, suspensions over 15 days, or removals. We are not required to represent you because you can go to EEO, Dept of Labor, or the MSPB.

    Them: I don’t need the Union. I have a great boss.
    Me: This isn’t about your boss. Over 90% of Employees will never have a grievance. But your boss has a boss, and they have a boss, all the way up to Congress. The Union represents you not only through addressing disputes in the workplace and negotiating a contract with your employer, but through things like legislative action. There is strength in numbers and your own strength is not going to sway lawmakers. And besides – Maybe this isn’t about whether you need the Union. Maybe it’s about the Union needing YOU, in order to be stronger on behalf of yourself and all other Federal employees.

    Robin Johnson

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