Thursday, May 15, 2008

Employee's Challenge to SEIU Reorganization Dismissed

Service Employees International Union Local 1292 (PERB Dec. No. 1956-M) (Issued on 5/09/08)

This case arose out of the implementation of SEIU’s “California Unite to Win” plan. With respect to local government employees, the plan called for the merger of dozens of existing locals into large regional locals. In Northern California, ten locals were merged into SEIU Local 1021 (“ten to one”).

Lisa Marriott was an employee of Tehama County. Her exclusive representative was a Joint Council which consisted of IUOE Local 39 and SEIU Local 1292. Marriott belonged to a group of employees serviced primarily by SEIU Local 1292. In her unfair practice charge, Marriott alleged that with a single exception, no one from Tehama County was allowed to vote on SEIU’s proposed reorganization plan. According to Marriott, SEIU Local 1292 had only 850 unit members and was serviced by locally based representatives. Under the plan, employees in SEIU Local 1292 were to be placed in SEIU Local 1021, which contained 54,000 employees. Marriott alleged that the new SEIU Local 1021 did not maintain locally based representatives, and instead, provided services from its Sacramento offices. Because she and her fellow employees were not allowed to vote on the reorganization plan, Marriott alleged that SEIU committed an unfair practice.

According to PERB, Marriott’s charge raised two issues: (1) Can Marriott challenge SEIU's consolidation of her local union with several other of SEIU' s local unions under the MMBA? (2) Does the MMBA give Marriott the right to challenge SEIU's failure to afford union members in her bargaining unit the right to vote in its decision to consolidate several of its local unions? PERB answered both questions with a qualified yes.

First, PERB held that a local union member “may challenge a parent union's consolidation decision, but only when that decision has a substantial affect on the employer-employee relationship.” Relying on existing precedent, PERB noted that its practice and policy was to not interfere in the internal affairs between an employee organization and its members unless it is shown that there was a significant impact the member's relationship with his or her employer. Here, the Board found that Marriott failed to establish any substantial affect on her relationship with her employee. Marriott’s allegation that SEIU Local 1021 could not properly service its members in Tehama County was too speculative, according to PERB.

PERB answered the second issue in a similar manner: “We also hold that an employee may only challenge the parent union's failure to afford its members the opportunity to vote for or against a consolidation of local unions under the MMBA, if the employee can demonstrate that such consolidation had a substantial impact on the employer-employee relationship.” Again, PERB held that Marriott failed to demonstrate that her inability to vote on the reorganization plan had a substantial impact on her relationship with her employer. For these reasons, PERB dismissed the charge.


PERB analyzed this case primarily as one raising the issue of standing; namely, did Marriott, as an individual employee, have standing to challenge SEIU’s reorganization. On the issue of standing, PERB’s decision is clearly correct.

However, the more interesting issue—and the one not directly raised in this case—is whether SEIU’s reorganization raised a question concerning representation (QCR) such that an employer could have required a unit-wide vote before recognizing the newly chartered locals. Several PERB charges have been brought on this issue against SEIU around the state. To my knowledge, all the charges have been dismissed on the grounds that the reorganization did not change the basic identity of the exclusive representative; in other words, the reorganization did not raise a QCR. None of these dismissals were appealed to the Board so no precedential decision on this issue is expected. In practice, to my knowledge every local agency confronted with this issue has chosen to recognize the new regional locals.