Reformers threaten County union’s status quo

by on July 17, 2009 · 19 comments

in Civil Rights, Election, Labor, Organizing, San Diego

Monty Kroopkin in front of SEIU Local 221 offices. All photos by Patty Jones

Originally posted July 14, 2009.

There is an insurgent reform movement within the union that represents most of the County of San Diego’s employees.  And it threatens to overturn the status quo within SEIU Local 221.  SEIU – or the Service Employees International Union – is the largest public-employee union in the country, and its San Diego affiliate in Local 221 is having an internal election this month.  The candidate for president on the reform slate is Monty Kroopkin, an old friend of ours.

SAN DIEGO, CA.  Monty Kroopkin appears to be an unlikely candidate for president of Local 221.  With his salt and pepper beard and pony-tail, and glasses tipping off his nose, he appears to be more suited for some intellectual post at a local university, or perhaps polishing and working on his Harley.

Yet he and his fellow reformers are running against the status quo in Local 221, a status quo upheld by the current leadership of president Sharon-Francis Moore and her Executive Board.  Monty did not mince words in describing the problems he perceives with the union caused by Moore’s presidency.

Patty and I met Kroopkin at his small 2-bedroom North Park home, and with coffee cups in hand, followed him to an upstairs outside deck next to the attached granny flat. There the welcome breeze cooled us.

I have known Monty Kroopkin for many years, since both of us attended UCSD in the early Seventies.  Back then, he easily fell into being the mentor for numerous student-journalists on several campus-sponsored newspapers over the years.  Monty personified the student-as-activist role model for the waves of younger kids who streamed through the university on their way to careers and middle-class lifestyles, instilling in them a perpetual stance of questioning authority and being on the underdog’s side, whether it was Vietnamese peasants or South African freedom fighters.

Growing up in New York, he had ended up in San Diego in 1970, gravitating to the areas primo college.  He had graduated from UCSD with a Sociology and Communications degree, and had started a PhD program that he had to eventually shelve in order to find work and pay the bills.

As our own lives took their separate turns, Monty and I always stayed in touch over the decades since.  He had been an early supporter of the original OB Rag, and when this blog appeared, Monty quickly jumped on our bandwagon and has supported us ever since.

So, as I climbed the stairs to the deck for our interview, I felt like I was sitting down with an old friend who was walking out on the proverbial gangplank with his candidacy – for if he loses, his name will be mud around the Union hall on Kearny Mesa Road, a stones throw from 805.

Yet as we talked, and as I listened to his passion for union democracy, his deep concern for the union members, and listened to how he had organized a reform slate to run against the entrenched leadership in the upcoming union elections, my trepidation grew into an excitement that I was unprepared for.

His knowledge of the details of how Local 221 was organized, and all the people it represented, was amazing, but to be expected.  The Local, with a membership around 8,000, represents most of the classified workers at the County; these include nurses (public health and at the jails), eligibility workers, social workers, adult probation staff, the clerical staff throughout the County – including the Sheriffs Department, and such folks as environmental health inspectors. This numbers between 13,000 and 15,000 people.  The Local does not represent attorneys – DA’s, County counsel, Public Defenders, and does not have Sheriff deputies.

221 also represents clerical people and classified posts at a number of incorporated cities in the County: National City, Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Encinitas, San Marcos and even Calexico.  These cities combined account for about 500 to 600 workers.

Members get to vote – for officers for the leadership, and theoritically on policies, issues and the direction of the Local.  But here is where Kroopkin has problems with the current union leaders.

“The current president, Sharon-Francis Moore, … she and the rest of the appointed Executive Board rigged the vote and wrote the new constitution for the local.  The membership was shut out.”  Monty explained that Local 221 was formed two years ago with the merger of two other SEIU unions – Local 535 and Local 2028. The International – meaning the national office – led by Andy Stern – appointed Moore and the rest of the current Executive Board. “The members were promised a new election within 6 months,” Monty said.

“And that was a year and a half ago,” I asked.  Monty nodded.  Sharon-Francis Moore, an attorney from New York, had no area roots, yet she was set up and given an annual salary of over $130,000 by the Ex Board, again a Board appointed by the national’s leadership and beholden to her.

The current president and her senior staff re-wrote the local’s constitution and made deep changes in how the locals that had merged were set up.  They minimized the Executive Board, and moved from a proportional representational model where chapters elected people to fill the seats of the Board to one that “was set up to protect their own positions,” Monty said.   “Now, there is no rational basis for the seats on the Executive Board,” he added.

I asked Monty point blank: what are his problems with Sharon-Francis Moore.

“Currently,” he said, “she has four unfair labor practices charges filed against her, by her own staff at the union hall.”  These folks work for the union as staff. During contract negotiations, a number of them picketed Moore’s home. “She then threatened to take away any Family Leave benefits.  She targeted the picketers and the ringleaders – and harassed them with phone calls to their homes.”

Kroopkin continued: “Members complain that their calls to the union are not returned.” This was a common complaint, I said, among members of any union – I had experienced this when I was a union rep years ago.

“Yeah,” he replied.  “They missed all kinds of deadlines – grievance deadlines – contract deadlines.”

“One wide-spread complaint (from the members) is poor representation.” Monty went on, “This allows management to run amok!”

There is also, Monty said, “an attitude of arrogance towards the members by senior staff.”  He has witnessed times when staff would yell at members, deriding them.  “This is unacceptable,” he said.  “The staff don’t work for the members, they work for the president.” It should be the other way around, he implied.

“Andy Stern (the International president)  has pushed a corporate model of management onto the union.”  And now, Monty continued, “there is vast contempt with the union among members.  People don’t even know who the leadership is, as there is so little communication with the members.”

In response to all these problems,  Monty began organizing a reform slate to run in the current election. He formed the slate from a loose community of stewards and activists from both the unions that merged to form 221.  Now, the Reform 221 slate has 11 candidates for the 16 open positions.

Monty himself was a steward for 7 years, and was elected by his co-workers to be on the contract negotiating team twice.

The union election is being run by an outside firm that specializes in union elections. A mail ballot was sent out to all the members July 1.  They must be returned and in the hands of the pollsters by July 21.  In addition, from July 14 to the 21st, there are various polling sites around the County for members to cast their ballots.  The tally will be made on the 21st.

Monty believes that if the turn-out is good, he and his slate have great chances of winning the election.  But the members have experienced  a couple of years of poor representation, plus there’s apathy, people not caring, not thinking that they can change things at their union.

“We have a better organization than the incumbents,” Monty said, “and they don’t have popular support.”  Monty and his reformers want to change the make-up of the Executive Board, bring back proportional representation, “so every kind of worker and every kind of work is represented.”

Go to   http://reformseiulocal221.blogspot.com/for the candidates and their positions.

This is exciting.  My old friend could be the next president of Local 221.  There is indeed a reform movement throughout SEIU, all over the country, of union members so upset with the way Andy Stern and the International has treated them, that they have organized themselves against that leadership.  The reformers have formed something they call SMART – SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today.  SMART-inspired insurgencies have won in various locals around the nation, including a couple of wins here in California.

Monty Kroopkin is working for a victory here in San Diego. It’s all about the turn-out, he tells me.  “The tide is turning.”  We shook hands and then Patty and I turned into the approaching night air.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar S.M.A.R.T. Organizer July 14, 2009 at 9:06 pm

The name of the organization mentioned is SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today. Our website is at

We have members in SEIU locals across the U.S. and Canada. There are many other independent reform groups (like Reform221) in various SEIU locals, all over the place. Many members of SMART also belong to independent local groups.

SMART, inspired by older reform groups in other unions, such as Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) is working to unify all the democratic reform groups in SEIU, and advocates greater unity and cooperation among reform groups in all unions.

One can become acquainted with many of these reform groups by browsing the links at the Association for Union Democracy at http://www.uniondemocracy.org/AUDLinks/RNFLinks.htm

Reform groups in SEIU have recently won elections in Massachusetts (at Local 888) and in California (at the Santa Clara County and Monterey County chapters of Local 521).

A good article on why the rest of the labor movement has turned against SEIU (and why a rebellion has been growing inside SEIU) was just published in CounterPunch at http://www.counterpunch.org/winslow07132009.html and although on the long side, it is an eye opener for anybody unfamiliar with the problems.

Let’s hope the brave unionists of Reform221 win big and let’s hope we see the same thing happen all over SEIU. Andy Stern’s new company unionism must be stopped.

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avatar Dave Sparling July 14, 2009 at 8:30 pm

The original concept of unions was as idealistic as the original concept of politics. A group of honest hard working people meeting to benefit the masses. Then of course the desire to benefit self first, followed by relatives and close friends, soon left the masses with less the perfect representation. Now in many cases the workers union representative is about as much value to a worker as his state representative, congress person or senator. Not sure what can be done about it, since most people are so busy trying to just survive they have no time to watch what leaders are doing. I wish this guy the best and hope he is the exception we all need.

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avatar Editor July 15, 2009 at 8:37 am

Thanks for the links and update SMART Organizer; I had to pluck your comment from the spam bin because of all the links.

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avatar lane tobias July 15, 2009 at 9:23 am

In somewhat related news, I came across this story when looking for information on San Diego County SEIU – apparently, members of the union are going to start distributing a petition to limit term limits for County Supervisors. I would like to get my hands on one to help get signatures, but don’t know how. I will look into that, because I know lots of folks in the RAG community here would love to sign it!

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avatar lane tobias July 15, 2009 at 9:23 am
avatar Wally Gutierrez July 16, 2009 at 8:27 am

Ms. Moore, I believe you very dishonest and are not trust worthy. You are also a very bad leader which no one follows. For these reasons this is why I believe there are so many members leaving SEIU in San Diego. Look at the POA website they are happy as heck not being associated with YOU and SEIU. When Mary Grillo was here, I was a member and it was a member driven organization not the crap you have created. Ms Moore if you what to see lies look your self in the mirror. As Michael Jackson would say “Man in the Mirror” Listen to the song it’s should be your theme song…….

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avatar S.M.A.R.T. Organizer July 17, 2009 at 8:40 am

Lane,

Another article came out, with Moore misleadingly made out to look like a union leader. And Johnson, who is also featured, is also running for the union election that ends on Tuesday. The article in the North County Times is at

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I posted a comment there:

SMART Organizer July 15, 2009 9:51PM PST

The members of SEIU Local 221 have not been asked if we want to campaign for term limits. Whether it is a good idea or not is hardly the point when corrupt, high paid, unelected “union leaders” say our union wants this or that, and we members have not even heard about it yet. That’s not a union. A real union is a democratic project. What SEIU is looking like more and more is THE MOB. A dictatorship. A racket to suck up union dues and make officials rich.

There is a reform movement for restoring democracy and ending the corruption in SEIU. On the international (U.S. and Canada) level the best example of this is S.M.A.R.T. — SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today (see at .

Here in San Diego, there is actually an election going on this month, and a reform group is trying to unseat Sharon-Frances Moore and her cronies. In fact, the timing of this announcement about a campaign to do term limits for the Board of Supervisors is really a cheap stunt by Moore & the “gang” to get free publicity right when SEIU members are deciding who to elect for president, all the officers and the new executive board of the union. The reform group is Reform221. They pledge, among other things, to cut the union president’s $130,000 plus salary down to the average of what union members all make. No more union prez living like a CEO hotshot! For all the info on the reform slate, see their website at

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avatar Kathleen July 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I can see in the near future that they will be a change in our leadership. We have worked hard and long over the years to have come to this point, it does not seem as though we have made very much progress, look around and tell me is this what you signed up for? I believe that a free democratic union is the best way to go. We are in this together for the betterment of all of us.
Unity for the people.

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avatar Kathleen July 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

SEIU Members are very excited about this election, they have endured lots of falsehood in the past and honestly believe there is a fighting chance to be heard in addition to bringing about a change. Leadership is an honor that should be handles with pride not arrogancy. The presumption of athority is often abused when one believes that they are above another person and is a know-it-all. A good leader keeps in mind the people they are leading which should be toward a goal that will enhance the lives of all the people not putting oneself in front but pulling up the rear, to ensure that all persons are treated and represented equally and fairly. Until these qualities are achieved and exhibited there will be division among us. We are one, we are all. I represent you, you represent me. It is OUR organization (Union), not a my organization (Union). Sharon-Frances Moore and followers, should think in those terms…………..

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avatar S.M.A.R.T. Organizer July 17, 2009 at 4:42 pm

They changed the link for the North County Times article about the “union” going after term limits for the Board of Supervisors.

The new link is

http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2009/07/14/news/sandiego/z3e0ba4619ab9fd02882575f30074e228.txt

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avatar Monty July 17, 2009 at 7:09 pm

I would like to expand on some points raised in the article, and offer some clarifications (and a correction or two).

The article does not mention one of the main issues of our campaign, which is that our president is paid $130K plus of our union dues. We are a union with thousands of clerks, food service workers and others who are paid $90 or $100K less than that. The president’s pay level is a kind of corruption. Reform221 pledges to cut the president’s pay to an average of what the union membership makes.

The account in the article about the Local 221 union staffers doing the pickets and the threat to take away their FMLA benefits is reported backwards in the OB Rag article. The pickets were because of the threat about the FMLA benefits, plus other issues, including staff wanting a stronger grievance procedure (with binding arbitration). Not a big error, but might as well correct the record.

What matters is that a union president, anywhere, would even talk about taking away FMLA rights. What matters is that when staff protested and picketed, Moore reportedly went ballistic and threatened the workers with retaliation and made harassing phone calls and caused other senior staff and even e-board members to call workers at home and harass them. No union officer has any business acting this way.

I am proud to have joined the staff on one of their picket lines in front of my own union hall!

This is perhaps a good place to say I wish the part of the OB Rag article about poor representation and missed deadlines had come out in more of a proper context about UNDER STAFFING and BAD MANAGEMENT. The ratio of members served to union staffers is bad. The union line staff have impossible workloads. Staff also complain about constantly having their work priorities changed by the senior staff, and how it weakens their ability to do good follow through on representations. Staff training in inadequate. Most of the reps are not trained how to file and represent an unfair labor practice charge (ULPs), for example. Competent unions train staff and stewards to file ULPs in conjuction with contract grievances whenever needed. Stewards are not adequately trained to carry much of the representation work. This puts added pressure on the paid union line staff to do an even larger workload.

Like any organization, there are some staff who should not be doing this kind of work, but they are not the majority. Moore and some of the senior staff are not competent to manage the union’s staff.

Reform221 is not about bashing the line staff at the union hall.

One of the first things I will do as president of Local 221 is talk to the union line staff about how to more rationally and fairly reorganize their work. A more thorough training program for staff and for stewards, combined with a vastly expanded member education program, would also be priorities of my presidency and of a Reform221 majority on the Executive Board. Union members well educated on their legal rights under their contract and relevant labor, employment and civil rights laws, are union members who are more often able to solve their own problems. Having such educated union members would reduce the workloads of the stewards and the paid union reps.

In the article, I am quoted as saying: “The staff don’t work for the members, they work for the president.” I’m not sure that that is how I said it, and perhaps the meaning is clear from the context. But, it is true that the staff often ACT LIKE they work for the president instead of for the membership. The president can fire staff. There is a power relationship that staff have to heed. But they, and the president as well, do work for the membership, and should always act like it. When we have a president, like Moore, who does NOT act like she works for us members, it sets a very bad example for the rest of the staff to follow.

As president, I will never forget who pays my salary, and will never act like the union staff and union members are mere instruments of my own ego and agenda.

Yes We Can!
Monty Kroopkin

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avatar merrill mickelson July 17, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Monty……You are delusional. What conspiracies? where is your proof?? You don’t have any, because there isn’t anything. You spread your lies and delusions like you toss trash….anywhere. President Moore is one of the best things SEIU has going. The 2nd best thing is that you never come to the Union Hall nor do you participate in anything….. Small miracles.

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avatar gimmejustice July 18, 2009 at 1:13 am

What kind of union leadership allows scabs to replace loyal union members? That is exactly what happened to many Head Start employees reporting back to work last year. The job was still there but the worker was replaced unfairly by non-union members.
SEIU 221,NHA Head Start division, has no stewards or regular meetings. The service rep. have little or no training; consequently, they are often a hindrance rather than an asset. Employees have lost their jobs because of their reps. If we encounter a problem at work we are referred to the SEIU call center. The call center leaves a message with our rep, who may or may not call us back.
SEIU sanctions two-tier systems, and penalties for union members.
For example, INTRODUCTORY PERIOD for NHA Employees
All non-professional positions have an initial introductory period of six (6) months, and all Union professional positions have an initial introductory period of nine (9) months. Vacation: Union members accrual begins after 6 months but non-union members begin immediately and can be used in 6 months.
Sharron Francis-Moore, you represent management not the members.

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avatar Monty July 18, 2009 at 8:33 am

For the general public out there, please understand that Merrill Mickelson is one of the incumbent (unelected, appointed by Andy Stern) members of the Local 221 executive board, AND she is running for election right now on an incumbent-led slate of candidates that include our unelected president, Moore.

Union leaders who value democracy NEVER say it is a good thing if somebody is uninvolved or not attending meetings. It is very true, however, that I have stayed away from the current UNELECTED executive board meetings, with very few exceptions. I consider the unelected board to be illegitimate and, worse, a waste of time.

Mickelson’s blast about “conspiracies” is a good example of the way the current leadership treats us union members. I have not said one word about any “conspiracies”. She is campaigning against her own imagination!

Of course, the federal government IS investigating numerous SEIU officials around the country for stealing millions of dollars of our dues money, for rigging elections, and other crimes. Whether these investigations focus on individuals or groups of conspiring individuals is not clear yet, because the Department of Labor, the FBI and other government agencies involved, have not made public the results of their investigations. Nevertheless, Local 6434 president Tyrone Freeman has been accused BY SEIU of stealing our money, and forced to resign. That is only one example of the scope of the scandal. Freeman, like Moore here in San Diego, was appointed by Andy Stern.

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avatar Monty July 18, 2009 at 9:43 am

One more point about Sister Mickelson’s kind words.

It is of course untrue that I do not “participate in anything.”

I was elected and served on the 2009 country contract negotiation team.

I helped lead the reform members floor fight for amendments at our Local 221 constitutional convention in February of this year.

I am an active steward, assisting co-workers with their grievances and their discipline case appeals.

And, I am an organizer for the international reform movement in SEIU, and actively in touch with SEIU leaders from locals across the U.S. and Canada.

Sister Mickelson is actually fully aware of these facts. So, I will leave it up to the members and general public reading all this to decide: is SHE lying? If so, how does that contribute to a full and fair debate of the issues in our union election?

Yes We Can!
Monty Kroopkin

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avatar SMART Organzer July 18, 2009 at 10:10 am

The comment I made that included a link to the Reform221 website had a typo on the URL. The correct link is

http://reformseiulocal221.blogspot.com/

I hope folks figured it out on your own, but sorry for the goof.

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avatar gimmejustice July 18, 2009 at 4:38 pm

“President Moore is one of the best things SEIU has going???”
Ohhh Pleeeease,Merrill Mickelson,it’s you, who is delusional~start talking to members ….see how they feel about the union leadership.

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avatar SEIU Local 721 member in L.A. July 19, 2009 at 10:36 am

Monty, the article that was done on you was magnificent! A true gladiator. I think that you have a better shot than what DC thinks. Keep your left up.-D

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avatar bodysurferbob July 21, 2009 at 8:07 am

good luck to monty and the reform local 221 slate! today is (apparently) the day!

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