One of the largest public employee unions in California is under attack from within.
A group of Service Employees International Union Local 1000 members want a vote to decertify the union and join a new labor organization they have formed.
They need more than 30 thousand signatures to force the vote, and then they’ll need more than 50 percent of the union members to cast ballots. If more than half of those members vote in favor of decertification, SEIU will no longer represent them.
A Franchise Tax Board Analyst named Ken Hamidi is organizing the decertification effort and has already formed a new union called the California Professional Public Employees Association.
Hamidi says the union is misspending union dues on things like lavish travel, entertainment and to buy political influence through lobbying and other activities.
SEIU members pay one-and-a-half percent of their income to the union. The money is supposed to pay for things like contract negotiations, administrative costs and other employee support items.
Hamidi says only about a third of the $60 million in dues collected annually go toward those functions. “No representation, no effective bargaining,” Hamidi said. “But then all of the money goes somewhere where we don’t know where it is, because they don’t show it to us.”
Hamidi says he has been trying to force the union to open its books and provide him and other members with expenditure ledgers and receipts but he has been denied every time. He estimates 28-thousand members have raised the issue since 2007 and have been forced to have their disputes settled by an arbitrator – not a judge. Their contract allows the union to choose the arbitrator, with no input from employees, and the workers say they are given no information about what evidence will be presented until just minutes before their hearings begin.
A local attorney, who has joined in the decertification effort, says it’s a lopsided process that favors the union every time.
“What is a person supposed to do when they’re going up against the wealthiest institutions in the world, or organizations that have a lot of power like the SEIU?,” said United Law Center founder Stephen Foondos.
In fact, even the union will not dispute allegations that it has won every arbitration hearing and not once did an arbitrator find that a single penny was mis-spent.
Foondos said, “Every where you look there are suspicious things happening.”
Foondos and Hamidi point to union leadership travel to places like China, Germany and Australia and tens of millions of dollars with no explanation for exactly how they money is being spent.
And then there is the matter of a million dollars every year that is supposed to go into a strike fund to help support workers during walkouts – even though strikes are not allowed in their contracts.
Hamidi said the account is empty. “Ten million dollars. Where is that money.”
A spokesman told ABC10 Walker would never be available for an interview, and he would not respond to any questions.
When ABC10 asked about the travel expenses, the missing $10-million strike funds and the political activity expenditures, union spokesman Jim O’Donnell said “no comment.”