Union disunion

It should come as no surprise that tensions between the California State Employees Association (CSEA) and one of its units, the Civil Service Division (CSD), are only increasing after about 10 years of finger pointing and legal maneuvering (see “Union divided,” SN&R, November 15, 2001).

The latest sign that the two sides are still warring is a report by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, who was commissioned by CSEA’s parent union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to resolve the dispute.

Marshall’s report says that the CSEA, led by president Perry Kenny, violated its members’ rights in resisting the CSD’s attempts to incorporate. Incorporation would give the division more control of the dues their members contribute: around $34 million out of CSEA’s yearly revenue of $41 million.

When Marshall held a hearing on CSD’s complaints in October, Kenny and CSEA leaders refused to participate. In their absence, Marshall found that CSEA fought the incorporation because it was “primarily concerned with preserving its own power rather than with the collective bargaining rights of the CSD bargaining units.”

Worse, Marshall found CSEA violated its own policies and responsibilities. Marshall’s findings inspired SEIU international president Andrew Stern to fire off a letter to Kenny demanding an immediate meeting to discuss the report.

Kenny did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Yet conflict is at the heart of Marshall’s report. Marshall was appointed to study the rift between the two warring factions by the SEIU, the organization that CSEA has been affiliated with since 1984.

Kenny last year pushed away the parent union by starting an effort (along with CSEA’s board) to disaffiliate from SEIU. Kenny maintained the cost of staying with SEIU was unreasonable and that SEIU had lobbied against CSEA interests in the state Legislature. CSD leaders filed for a stay of that decision in court, which was ultimately denied last December.

At the same time Kenny was pushing away from SEIU, Jim Hard was drawing the CSD closer to SEIU by incorporating. Hard and his fellow CSD leaders believe state workers should work more closely with the parent union. So they voted to incorporate, which touched off a legal battle that stalled the CSD efforts to leave CSEA. In March 2001, a judge ruled in favor of CSD, but Kenny appealed. In February, an appeals court upheld the decision.

So in essence state workers—still—have a divided leadership. What’s at stake is who controls the union purse strings and philosophical direction—Hard or Kenny. While it’s unclear where the two factions go from here, there’s no reason to believe the battle is anywhere close to being over.