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New Head Of Largest State Worker Union Won’t Back Newsom

SEIU Local 121 members gather at a worker's rights demonstration on Labor Day...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: SEIU Local 121 members gather at a worker's rights demonstration on Labor Day in downtown San Diego, Sept. 4, 2017.

The new president-elect of California’s largest state employee union said Tuesday that the influential organization won’t back Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to fend off a likely recall election this fall.

Richard Louis Brown said anger over union contract concessions last year during what proved to be an illusionary $54 billion state budget deficit helped fuel his victory over longtime Service Employees International Union Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker.

Brown said that anger extends to Newsom.

“He is going to need support from public sector unions to help him fight his recall,” Brown said in an interview with The Associated Press. "When I become president of Local 1000, he can look for somebody else to support him. He will not get any help from us. He’s on his own.”

Brown's proposals will still have to win support from the union's board of directors, given the turnabout from its reliably Democratic stances. He will take the post June 30.

While Newsom has said he expects to restore last year's pay cuts topping 9% with the new fiscal year starting July 1, he would never have agreed to that “if he wasn’t under the threat of recall,” Brown said.

Newsom won election in 2018 with union support, then in Brown's view turned on organized labor to help close the projected budget gap by demanding the equivalent of two days' wages or furloughs each month during the pandemic when “people were hurting” and living paycheck to paycheck.

“That’s why I said we’re going to run his ass out of office,” Brown said.

That projected gap has since turned into a record revenue surplus in the revised budget Newsom presented to lawmakers earlier this month.

Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click did not immediately comment Tuesday.

More broadly, Brown said he'll ask the union’s 96,000 members to create a strike fund to be used in future contract negotiations and to separate from the Service Employees International Union that he said eats up more than half of members' union dues.

Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California, said in a statement that the umbrella organization of union locals with 700,000 overall members “is firmly opposed to the destructive, costly and distracting recall.”

Brown also pledged to cut union dues in half and create more transparency in union affairs as he tries to build back union membership. He promised to focus solely on protecting union jobs and negotiating state labor contracts.

When Newsom asked unions to accept wage cuts to help with the state's projected pandemic-induced deficit, ”we agreed to just give up our money, under the leadership of Yvonne Walker. I can guarantee that will never happen with me.”

He promised to end the union's political involvement generally, a step he said is needed to draw support from state employees across the political spectrum.

With its heavy involvement supporting Democratic candidates, “you’re alienating half your union,” he said. "You can’t unify your union if you’re involved in politics.”

Under Walker's leadership since 2008, the local was a thorn in the side of the state's last Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it negotiated pandemic-driven austerity moves last year with Newsom.

Results posted online Monday show Brown with more than 33% of the vote to Walker's 27% among five candidates for the three-year term. Although the union has 96,000 members, just 7,880 voted.

The union represents workers in nine of the state's 21 bargaining units, from librarians to nurses, office workers to technicians.

Brown is an analyst with the state treasurer’s office who started his state employment in 2009 handling unemployment claims at the Employment Development Department. He ran against Walker twice previously.

“I think overall the union will be fine,” Walker said in a telephone interview. “I think I’ve had a good run, I’m proud of the work that I’ve done. I got to build leaders and change people’s lives. ... I’ve left a strong foundation for whoever came behind me, a strong union.”

Under Walker, the union did its best to bedevil Schwarzenegger during a 2008 budget impasse with the Legislature. Its members, wearing their purple T-shirts, once staged a 6:30 a.m. “wakeup call” demonstration outside the Capitol-area hotel he occupied when he was in Sacramento, protesting his plan to temporarily reduce workers' pay to the federal minimum wage.

A year later, it overwhelmingly authorized a strike vote to lobby for ratification of its contract during the state's fiscal crisis caused by the Great Recession.

With Walker at the helm, the union also called for a strike in 2016 during negotiations with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. He went to court to block it before the two sides came to an agreement.

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