The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

September 13, 2011
Union leaders urge SEIU council to reject executive pay raise

A letter criticizing an SEIU Local 1000 proposal to increase executive pay is making the rounds among rank-and-file members, just days before union officials will convene in Oakland and consider the idea.

The letter, written by Paul Smilanick, former president and current vice president and chief steward of SEIU Local 1000 District Labor Council 768 in Sacramento and former Local 1000 Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer Cathy Hackett to Local 1000's council members, says that adding stipends to the state pay that the union's president and three vice presidents receive "is just plain wrong."

The council will consider whether to adopt the pay plan during a four-day meeting in Oakland that starts Friday. The proposal would set the president's pay at $150,000 per year and the three vice presidents' yearly pay at $125,000. The union would add a stipend to each officer's state pay to get them up to the new compensation level.

Currently, those officers receive their government pay and benefits while working full time on union business. Local 1000 then reimburses the state.

Proponents say that's not nearly enough, given the 95,000-member union's size, budget and the long work hours put in by those four elected officials.

More than a dozen people forwarded the e-mail to The State Worker. We contacted Smilanick and Hackett to verify their authorship. Both gave permission to post their joint e-mail here, unedited:

Dear Council Members and Alternates

As long time advocates for a member-led and democratic union we respectfully ask you to consider the following before casting your vote on the proposal to provide $125,000 or more salaries to the statewide officers. In our opinion the concept is just plain wrong for a member-led Local 1000.

A union committed to the members' interests from top to bottom has a close, genuine and practical connection between statewide officers and the membership. The proposal for huge permanent pay increase dissolves this key practical connection--living by the terms and benefits of the union contract like other members. This has been a bedrock principle of Local 1000 and the reform movement that created it.

No adequate justification for this unprecedented action has been made. The fact that some other organizations pay salaries more than three times that of the average Local 1000 member doesn't make it right for Local 1000 as a member-directed union to do the same. Long hours put in by statewide officers are also completely inadequate as a rationale for salaries of $125,000 to $150,000. All our District Labor Council officers, DBURs and active stewards volunteer their time to our union above and beyond their regular state service.

Pay appropriate to the job is another justification put forward for these giant raises. But, what is the primary job of our officers? It is to build, unify and continually strengthen the largest possible team of volunteer stewards and members to advocate the interests of the membership inside and outside the union from a member perspective.

Qualifications for our statewide and other officers are first and foremost, that they are state workers in a bargaining unit represented by Local 1000 and a volunteer steward. Those requirements cut out plenty of highly qualified individuals, including our staff, both rank and file and management. But we members elect our officers. Unlike jobs where competition between qualified and willing applicants set pay and benefits.

That was a very conscious decision. Living under the terms of the union contract with no extra special monetary reward outside their state salary reinforces our member leaders state worker perspective and inherent commitment to members interests, including the contract with the state. Long-term officers must make conscious efforts to stay connected with the membership at large and the leadership base because being a statewide officer for years at a time removes the individual from the daily difficulties and stresses of the state workplace and sometimes poor management. That doesn't mean their jobs are easy. They're not at all.

But statewide officers have a very different situation. They have two hundred staff to carry out the direction they are involved in setting and have no direct supervision. They do not have to fear going to work with bad supervision or worrying about getting their Merit Salary Adjustment, if they have any left to get. They're judged in elections.

Local 1000 officers have counterparts in our management structure. The President and Chief of Staff, the Secretary-Treasurer and the Controller, the V. P. for Organizing and Representation and the Statewide Field Director and the V. P. for Bargaining and the Contracts Department Coordinator. These appear to be the approximate pay rates the proposal aligns with inside our union. But the qualifications, selection process and jobs for elected leaders and staff managers are very different and consciously so.

Officers must be dues paying steward members and compete with other Local 1000 members. They must inspire, motivate and lead an all-volunteer activist base. Local 1000 managers have been selected in competition in the external labor market, "hiring off the street" or promoted from within based on performance compared to other staff and possibly outside candidates. Wages paid Local 1000 are suppose to be driven by the labor market for such work.

A legitimate issue that should be addressed is the loss of advancement opportunities for long-term statewide officers. It is true that being absent from your departmental position does not allow for advancement. This issue should be examined in more detail, discussed openly with the goal of finding a solution that doesn't divorce our statewide officers from the day-to-day real life issues faced by the majority of members. Suggestions of ensuring some percentage increase in pay rate for officers who have served more than three years in office have been raised. Using the seventy-fifth percentile of the salary range of all Local 1000 members as a minimum wage for statewide officers is another idea.

But there are probably no classifications represented by our union that pay $150,000 a year and few, if any that get to $125,000. The currently proposed pay scale for the officers, $125,000 to $150,000 would put them in a significantly higher income stratum than vast majority of Local 1000 members. From a political perspective that would put them as individuals in the position of being able to finance an entire election campaign on their own. Whereas over the last twenty years candidates have had to organize networks of members to raise money and volunteer help to win elections. That would not be good for our member-led union.

Paul Smilanick, V.P. DLC 768, Founding Member of Caucus for a Democratic Union, Local 1000 Budget Committee Member

Cathy Hackett, DLC 765 Steward, former Local 1000 Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer, Founding Member and former Statewide Coordinator for Caucus for a Democratic Union, past Local 1000 Budget Committee Member

Editor's note, Sept. 13, 8:58 p.m.: This post was changed to correctly identify Paul Smilanick's title within SEIU Local 1000.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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