California’s largest state worker union approved a $1 million donation Wednesday to help Gov. Gavin Newsom fight the recall in an emergency vote that some members said would cause friction in the union amid a leadership shakeup.
“Gavin Newsom will win this recall without our support,” said Robert Bayze, a union member who unsuccessfully proposed the union take no position on the recall. “The only thing that our support will do is further divide our union.”
SEIU Local 1000 represents 96,000 state workers. The $1 million contribution approved by the board of directors will go to the SEIU California State Council, which oversees 17 unions and voted last week to oppose the recall.
Union president Yvonne Walker called the emergency meeting of the union’s board of directors on Friday, days after she lost the presidency to an opponent who says the union shouldn’t support Newsom. She has weeks left on the job.
Incoming president Richard Louis Brown, who will takeover later this month, opposes union support for Newsom due to state worker pay cuts the governor imposed during the pandemic. He would need support from the board of directors to make opposition to the recall an official union position, but his anti-Newsom comments caused a stir in the organized labor movement that largely backs the governor.
A spokesman for the union did not respond to questions about when a political endorsement vote would normally be held.
Among the board, 44 people voted in support of the $1 million donation, nine voted against and five abstained.
Union member Steven Alari, who proposed the donation, warned failing to support Newsom could leave the state with a Republican governor who would take anti-worker positions. He reminded members about the tenure of former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won in the 2003 recall election and sparred often with the state worker union under Walker’s leadership.
“We must protect our members and the state of California,” he said.
The opponents included all three of the union’s vice presidents, one of whom was reelected.
Kevin Menager, the outgoing vice president and secretary-treasurer, said the union should wait to take a position until the recall is closer. Others similarly said the debate should happen at a regularly scheduled meeting, held on Zoom, rather than on a last-minute phone call. He supported Bayze’s amendment for the union to take no position on the recall at this time.
“We’re not telling our boss we don’t support you. We’re saying, ‘We’ll get back to you,’” Menager said, referring to Newsom.
Newsom, a first-term Democrat, has largely locked up support among labor unions. The California Labor Federation, which represents 2.1 million workers, announced Tuesday it was launching a campaign to fight the recall that would send thousands of workers out knocking on doors this summer.
But Brown, the incoming SEIU Local 1000 president, ran on a platform that included opposition to Newsom because of a state worker pay cut topping 9% last year. Newsom cut worker pay as he estimated a massive budget deficit that did not come to fruition. The state now has $76 billion in extra money, and Newsom said he expects to restore the pay when the next budget year starts July 1.
Fewer than 8,000 people, a fraction of the union’s membership, voted in the election. Brown also ran on a platform of creating a strike fund that the union can tap in future contract negotiations and splitting from the larger SEIU.
The recall must go through several more steps, including a cost estimate by state officials, before an election date can be set.