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Union staff workers returned to their jobs Monday after reaching an agreement to end an unusual strike against the union that employs them, Service Employees International Union Local 2015.

The workers had been picketing outside SEIU offices in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Bernardino, Fresno and Oakland since Nov. 1. They accused SEIU 2015, a statewide union local that represents hundreds of thousands of long-term health care workers, of engaging in unfair labor practices by failing to bargain over a series of issues.

In emailed responses, SEIU spokesperson Terry Carter did not answer specific questions related to unfair labor practice accusations, but she said that SEIU was committed to bargaining in good faith and was pleased the strike had ended. She also said SEIU has treated its staff generously with respect to wages.

“We value and respect our staff, and are pleased they are returning to work,” Carter wrote. “We heard their concerns and will continue to take them seriously in future discussions.”

Although the current strike has ended, the staff workers’ contract expires Dec. 31, and negotiations on a new contract are set to begin in January.

The striking SEIU staff members belong to another union, Pacific Northwest Staff Union Chapter 2015, and they went on strike through this union. PNWSU’s 130 members work for SEIU as call center operators, research analysts, IT workers and labor organizers. Shortly before the strike began, PNWSU leaders released an open letter to “elected officials and political allies,” which explained the reason its members intended to stay off the job.

“Our employer refuses to stop their Unfair Labor Practices,” reads PNWSU 2015’s letter. “The same way that we organize and support our rank and file members to fight injustices in their workplaces, we cannot sit back and allow SEIU Local 2015 to continue to violate the National Labor Relations Act.”

Unfair labor practice claims

On Feb. 28, PNWSU filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing SEIU of refusing to negotiate over issues related to wages and health care. The NLRB has yet to rule on the charge, and it’s not clear whether it will be moot now that the strike has ended.

The strike was not the first time SEIU has had significant labor issues with its own staff. PNWSU had previously filed unfair labor practice charges against SEIU Local 2015 in 2020 and in 2021. Those charges were resolved when, in one case, SEIU released information that PNWSU had been seeking and, in the other case, SEIU agreed to resume bargaining.

In 2019, employees at SEIU’s national headquarters in Washington DC accused the union of misclassifying staff and trying to eliminate layoff protections. Those workers approved a strike vote, but ultimately resolved their contract issues with SEIU without striking.

“We have a whole laundry list of things we could talk about. This is about getting them to sit down and treat the bargaining process seriously.”

Stasha Lampert, SEIU Local 2015 worker

PNWSU’s decision to strike had high approval among its members. More than 80 percent of the union staff participated in the strike vote, and 95 percent of them voted to approve the strike.

Although PNWSU’s contract with SEIU runs through the end of this year, the two parties had agreed in late 2021 to reopen the existing contract and negotiate wages and health care. Last spring, SEIU offered its staff members a $3,000-per-person bonus in exchange for PNWSU ending negotiations until the existing contract expires at the end of this year. A statement released by PNWSU said the bonus was “originally intended to buy our approval” over contract terms their members found “dissatisfactory” and now “will be accepted as strike pay and used to rebuild our union’s strike fund.”

Carter said the staff workers ended their strike without condition, adding that payment of the bonus is contingent upon employees ratifying an agreement to end the contract reopener. PNWSU stated its intention to end the reopened negations.

Regardless of what ends up happening with the bonus, PNWSU and SEIU will be negotiating a new contract soon.

“We have a whole laundry list of things we could talk about,” said Stasha Lampert, a San Francisco resident who works as a data analyst for SEIU Local 2015, during the strike. “This is about getting them to sit down and treat the bargaining process seriously.”

Staff members had been angered when SEIU responded to the strike by posting job listings seeking to fill PNWSU positions and when a manager used a vehicle to break through their picket line. They also accused SEIU of hiring private security guards to monitor strikers in Los Angeles and filed another unfair labor practice charge that accused their employer of “surveillance, assault, and intimidation.”

SEIU spokesperson Carter did not respond to any questions related to job postings or actions on the picket line.

Among the issues the workers want to bring back to the bargaining table in January is health care. PNWSU members are required to receive their health care benefits through Kaiser Permanente, but some members live and/or do work in areas where there are no nearby Kaiser facilities. Kaiser’s own website shows it has no facilities within a hundred miles of many California cities.

“A lot of us can’t just pull out our Kaiser card and use it when we need to,” said Jeff Armstrong, who is both PNSWU 2015’s president and an external organizer with SEIU 2015. “We have to travel great distances, sometimes in emergency situations.”

Armstrong lives in Oakland but travels across the state to help long term health care workers become unionized. He reports that while on a work trip in Redding, he had to travel “over three hours” to get emergency care for a blood infection.

Spokesperson Carter did not answer questions related to SEIU 2015’s health care benefits.