SEIU locals 503 and 49 discuss merger


SEIU’s two Oregon affiliates are discussing a merger: 55,000-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 represents state workers, home care workers, and nursing home workers around the state, while 10,000-member Local 49 represents janitors, security guards, and hospital support workers mostly in the Portland area.

SEIUDiscussions have been under way since late 2012, when members of the Local 49 Executive Board approached Local 503 about it. Since then, the Executive Boards have held joint meetings and formed committees to work out details. Local 503 is also holding meetings around the state, some of which are taking place this month.

In the first round of meetings, members discussed benefits and pitfalls of a merger, or “unification” as proponents are calling it. Unification could expand SEIU’s ability to organize hospital workers, janitors and security guards outside Local 49’s Portland stronghold. And it could promote greater unity against anti-union assaults like those that have taken place in Wisconsin and Michigan. On the other hand it could present conflicts: raising wages for members who work at Kaiser Permanente, for example, could affect premiums for other members who get their health care there.

Several committees are working on details of the merger proposal, including governance structure and dues. Members of both unions pay 1.7 percent of payroll in union dues, but Local 503 members pay an additioanl $2.75 a month above that. The two unions have similar structures: An elected board and president oversee an executive director, who directs staff.

Local 49 began in 1921 as a janitors local. Local 503 started out as the independent Oregon Public Employees Union, and affiliated with SEIU in 1980, becoming SEIU Local 503. Both have been growing: Local 49 is up over 4,000 members since 2000, while Local 503 is up by 30,000 members.

One thing proponents agree on: The new entity would not be known as Local 503 or 49, but would get a new number.

Leaders of the two unions expect to make a decision in January about whether to move forward with a merger. If they recommend unification, the final decision would go to each union’s membership to vote on separately, some time in Spring. That would be followed by a founding convention if the merger is ratified.

SEIU is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but the Oregon locals does collaborate with the state labor federation as well as with the Oregon Education Association.

[CORRECTION: This article was corrected to reflect an increase in Local 503’s membership. Previously it reported 47,000 members, based on Local 503’s most recent Labor Department filing. But a spokesperson says Local 503 has increased by 8,000 members in the last year: The State of Oregon restored some cut positions, and a new group of personal service workers who care for the developmentally disabled individuals joined the union.]

UPDATE: SEIU Local 503 votes not to merge with Local 49.


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