Hernandez is the now-former top boss at California’s largest labor union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In a truly let-them-eat-cake-moment, she’s been charged on multiple counts of embezzlement and tax fraud after allegedly cutting herself checks from a union political action committee and underreporting her earnings by over $1.4 million. The allegations come not long after members of the union’s largest local, SEIU Local 1000, took a 9.23% pay cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hernandez, who had since 2016 worked as the executive director of SEIU — which represents both public and private-sector workers, from prison guards, to janitors, to restaurant workers — was booked into jail along with her husband last Friday. The disgraced union boss is also charged with taking nearly $12,000 from a union-member-funded political action committee. Together, the couple allegedly owes state taxpayers over $140,000.
The charges and near-immediate resignation by Hernandez that followed come on the heels of months of controversy within SEIU 1000, California’s largest government union representing nearly 100,000 state employees. This spring, it appeared major changes were on the horizon when members elected reformer Richard Brown as their new president. Brown made headlines for promising to get the union out of politics, give non-members represented by union contracts a vote in union elections, and other changes that would upend the history of corruption within its ranks and refocus the organization on representing workers. But almost immediately, Brown hit roadblocks set up by the entrenched union leaders that make up the organization’s board of directors.
Since his election, union officers have refused to show up for meetings so he’s unable to assemble a quorum and conduct business; broadcasted vulgar slurs aimed at Brown; contributed $1 million to Newsom’s campaign, despite the fact that Brown was elected on a campaign not to support the governor; and more. On Sunday, a faction of the union bosses met at the California Democratic Party Headquarters and voted to strip the new president of most of his leadership powers and fundamentally change the structure of the union, directly defying the desires of their dues-paying members. They intend to replace him with an unelected person of their choosing.
“This is simply a power grab by a group of long-time loyalists of the last president who have no issues with authoritarian rule,” one member wrote, explaining that the move cancels out the members’ May vote and diminishes the voice they have in their own union.
Had Hernadez’s arrest or Brown’s effective kneecapping happened four years ago, members would have had no recourse but to accept that their leaders were stealing their money and ignoring the results of a democratic election. Their only option would have been to find a new, non-union job.
But, thanks to another disruptor in the labor-union space, Mark Janus, public-sector workers in California who are fed up with their union’s antics can drop membership and stop paying. In 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Janus — an Illinois child support worker — who didn’t want a union speaking on his behalf, and didn’t think government workers should be forced to pay a political organization just to keep their job. The ruling finally gave public-sector workers nationwide the ability to join, or not join, unions freely.
Thanks to your support of the California Policy Center and other organizations working to make sure Mark Janus and now Alma Hernandez are household names, approximately 306,000 California government employees have dropped unwanted union membership since the Supreme Court gave them this choice in 2018. This means every year, hard-working Californians are keeping over $240 million of their hard-earned money that previously would have gone to unions like the SEIU to squander it as their bosses see fit.
Thank you for your support in this effort.
Together, we will ensure every member of SEIU 1000, every teacher, every city secretary, and all other public-sector workers in this state understand they don’t have to pay an organization whose leaders embezzle away their money, or one that ignores their votes. They now have a choice and a voice in union membership.
Jackson Reese is the vice president of the California Policy Center.