Melissa Unger wins election at SEIU 503


Longtime political organizer Melissa Unger outpolled two challengers to win election as executive director of Oregon’s largest union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503. Unger, age 38, was appointed by the union executive board to the post in March after the resignation of Brian Rudiger. In mail ballots counted Sept. 27, Unger got 1,515 votes, compared to 709 for home care worker Holly Garland and 623 for child abuse hotline worker Shamus Cooke, chief steward at the Oregon Department of Human Services. Voter turnout was 5 percent.

As executive director, Unger oversees about 140 union staff who work on behalf of over 58,000 union members — state and local government workers, and non-profit and home care workers. Unger came to Local 503 in 2007 as a political organizer, left for a six-month stint with the Oregon House Democrats in 2011, and then directed SEIU’s Oregon State Council before becoming Local 503 political director in June 2014.

Unger ran together with incumbent union president Steven Demarest, who was also elected, turning back a challenge from home care worker Avery Horton.

Members also elected members of the union Executive Board by industry sector and by region as well as the following statewide officers:

  • Vice President: Homecare worker Rebecca Sandoval outpolled fellow home care worker Echo Strickland, state child welfare worker Guillermo Romero, and Oregon Department of Education employee Blake Whitson.
  • Secretary: University of Oregon employee Theodora Ko Thompson outpolled home care worker Nannett Carter-Jafri.
  • Treasurer: Department of Revenue employee Mary Stewart ran unopposed

All offices are for two year terms.

[MORE: See complete results here, including the election of members of the union Executive Board.]


  1. Less than 6% voted. Why did Melissa and Steve win? Let’s see: 1) They sent postcards, that looked like official SEIU LOCAL 503 documents, to the membership not once but twice – mailing cost alone exceeded $46,000. 2) SEIU LOCAL 503 mailed the Voters Guide separate from the ballots – I got the guide 2 days after receiving my ballot. 3) On the SEIU LOCAL 503 website, the voters guide button was “hidden” but the nomination and results links were in plain view. Now, you can’t find candidate statements at all on the 503 website. 4) SEIU LOCAL 503 failed to maintain a current mail list and received many ballots returned as undelivered. THIS DENIED MANY MEMBERS THEIR VOICE!

    When less than 6% of members votes, you know there is a problem with leadership.

  2. I am really tired of union officer’s being elected from the ranks of staff. How does she have any idea how the work is done for the rank and file? How can someone be in an executive position and have never done the work that the union ostensibly actually does? As the other poster mentioned, if you have only a 6% turn out, what sort of election is that actually?


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