Service Employees International Union Local 2015 has terminated two of its Los Angeles-based union staff members just weeks after those workers returned from a strike.
The terminated employees played high-profile roles in the strike — on the picket line, at the negotiating table, and on social media. They both say they were fired in retaliation for those roles.
“Our terminations sent a message: don’t do too much, or there will be consequences,” said Jazmine Reyes, an SEIU communications specialist who lost her job along with Alex Sanchez, an SEIU organizing representative.
SEIU declined to discuss the firings.
“We don’t comment on personnel decisions,” said Terry Carter, communications director for the union local, which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers throughout California.
Reyes and Sanchez were among more than 125 SEIU staff members who went on a 12-day strike against the union last November. The staffers belong to another union, Pacific Northwest Staff Union Chapter 2015. PNWSU had accused SEIU of unfair labor practices for refusing to reopen negotiations on a series of issues related to wages and health despite having agreed to do so in late 2021.
The PNWSU members went back to work after accepting $3,000 per person in bonus pay from SEIU, which PNWSU then deposited into its strike fund. In a statement at the time, PNWSU noted that it was preparing to negotiate with SEIU again, as the current contract was set to conclude on Dec. 31. Bargaining began in early January and is ongoing.
During the strike, Sanchez was a strike captain. Reyes helped run PNWSU’s social media accounts and was visible to management on the picket lines.
“I walked the lines and led the chants during the strike,” said Reyes. “Leadership folks definitely saw me there.”
Both workers were also part of PNWSU’s bargaining committee during the strike and regularly met with SEIU’s management to negotiate.
On probation to unemployed
A key issue for PNWSU in the contract talks involves guidelines for treating probationary employees. Under the current contract, new SEIU workers can be terminated without cause for the first nine months of their employment. Both Reyes and Sanchez were probationary employees when SEIU terminated them. Reyes had worked for SEIU for three months, while Sanchez had almost reached the end of his probationary employment, having worked for more than eight months.
PNWSU President Jeff Armstrong, who works as an organizer with SEIU, said in an interview that PNWSU wants “regular evaluations, check-ins and guidelines for how probationary employment should work.” He said Sanchez and Reyes were “great at their jobs” and were let go due to their workplace organizing with PNWSU.
Sanchez and Reyes said SEIU management told them their termination was related to performance but provided few details. Sanchez, who has worked in labor for over 20 years, said he felt SEIU had previously been happy with his performance.
“I was praised by management almost every day,” he said.
“Whether I go back or not, I’m going to fight them. I’m still on the bargaining committee so they still have to see my face.”Alex Sanchez, fired SEIU organizing representative
Reyes said SEIU management “had never said before that my performance was unsatisfactory,” and that she had repeatedly asked to be assigned more work, but that such requests were ignored.
Both Sanchez and Reyes said there are emails and text messages proving that management praised them and ignored requests to be given additional work, but that SEIU cut off access to these communications when they were fired.
“They shut my phone and email down right away,” said Sanchez.
PNWSU has filed a series of grievances with SEIU and unfair labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board related to the terminations. They seek the emails and texts, and they allege that SEIU broke labor law by terminating the employees for their union activities.
Reyes said she plans to seek work outside of SEIU, and Sanchez is seeking reinstatement of his old job. While the NLRB considers his case, and even though he doesn’t currently work for SEIU, Sanchez still serves on the negotiating committee in the current contract negotiations.
“Whether I go back or not, I’m going to fight them,” Sanchez said about SEIU. “I’m still on the bargaining committee so they still have to see my face.”