Is Larkin Street Youth Services using public funds to fight a union organizing drive?

A flyer posted by LSYS management.

Larkin Street Youth Services does great and important social work with homeless youth in San Francisco, for which it receives generous support from city taxpayers, as well as federal grants. That’s why its employees and some prominent local officials are questioning the organization’s aggressive, deceptive, and anti-union resistance to the request by a majority of its 88 employees to be represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

A majority of employees submitted an organizing petition on April 8, asking LSYS Executive Director Sherilyn Adams to honor the request and recognize card check neutrality, as other local city-supported nonprofits have done, such as Tenderloin Housing Clinic. But SEIU organizer Peter Masiak said Adams refused to even discuss it, leading the National Labor Relations Board to set a mail-in ballot election that begins May 21.

“That was two months she was able to buy by forcing this election,” he told us.

Adams and LSYS management have used that time to try to undermine the organizing effort with staff meetings and mailers that criticize SEIU in particular and the labor movement in general, using misleading scare tactics about the costs of organizing.  

“In my view, if employees become represented by a union, our organization will be significantly impacted, and not for the better,” Adams wrote in an April 23 email to staff announcing the NLRB election. LSYS management has also posted flyers with inaccurate information on the costs of joining the union and dated information about a contentious contract impasse between Local 1021 and its workers that has [since been settled. CORRECTION: Local 1021 workers rejected that settlement, with negotiations scheduled to restart May 21].

“They have been engaged in an anti-union campaign and hired outside counsel to fight this,” Masiak told us, noting how inappropriate such actions are for an organization that gets the vast majority of its funding from government grants. “I think it’s a misuse of these funds.”

Some public officials agree, including Assembly member Tom Ammiano and Sup. John Avalos, who have written letters to LSYS criticizing the tactics and urging Adams to recognize the union.

“Their desire to have a voice on the job and develop professionally in a supportive environment should be celebrated by LSYS management,” Ammiano wrote to Adams on April 30, noting his long history of advocating for increased city funding of the organization. “Unions are an important voice for employees regarding salary, benefits, working conditions, and many other issues. I strongly encourage you to accept card check recognition, to remain neautral during your employees’ organizing efforts, and not to use public funds on anti-union attorneys or consultants, so that your employees may make their own decision on whether or not to form a union.”

Eva Kersey, who works in LSYS HIV-prevention programs and helped organize the union drive, said it was driven by concerns about low wages, poor benefits, and the belief that “we don’t have a meaningful voice in how our programs are run,” she told us.

Kersey said she was disappointed at how management has reacted to the organizing drive. “What was most surprising is the general lack of respect we’ve gotten as workers and an organizing committee,” Kersey said, citing belittling management statements about how employees were being manipulated by the desperate union. “We’ve put a lot of work into this and put ourselves out there in a lot of ways.”

But Kersey believes support for the union has only grown and that LSYS employees -- who are used to cutting through the bullshit they hear from troubled teens -- haven’t been swayed by the speeches, flyers, and emails from management.

“I don’t think they’re very effective. They’re pretty one-sided,” Kersey said.  

Adams did not return our calls for comment, but had LSYS spokesperson Nicole Garroutte respond by asking for questions in writing, and we provided a list raising the issues and concerns expressed in this article. She didn’t answer the questions directly but offered this prepared statement: “Thank you for your interest in Larkin Street and, in particular, the election process that is currently underway. Out of respect for all of our employees and to help ensure a fair and independent process, we will confine our response to reaffirming the high degree to which we value our staff and the faith that we have in their ability to make informed individual decisions regarding the election. We recognize that there are expected differences of opinions regarding the preferred labor-management model, but we are confident that we all share a mutual passion for our mission and, most importantly, for assisting to our fullest potential the vulnerable clients we serve. We would be happy to talk further after the election process is concluded.” 

Masiak said the ballots will be mailed out May 21, they must be returned by June 5, and they will counted June 6.


Doesn't thatr ather assume that most people support unions and therefore want to see their influence grow? And isn't the evidence of the last 50 years of union decline in fact the exact opposite?

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

The decline of unions is due to increasing corporate influence on labor laws, including the corporate funding of pushes for "right-to-work" laws which have been railroaded in by the right in many states. The stagnation of wages for the middle class, and the decline of wages for the working class, correlate directly to the decline of unions. Union workers earn on average 28% more than nonunion workers in similar jobs, and there is a spillover effect of having unions in a given industry that brings up wages in similar nonunion jobs (to compete with unionized jobs and to try to keep employees complacent enough that they won't unionize).

Sadly, some of the people in the working class and middle class who would benefit most from having a union don't recognize the benefits, because they have heard endless anti-union propaganda from the right and from the corporate media.

However, in this case, a strong majority of the workers at Larkin Street signed union authorization cards and want a union. How is their management somehow entitled to spend taxpayer dollars--MY hard-earned money--to fight their federally guaranteed right to form a union? That money should be spent providing services to homeless youth, the mission of their agency, and compensating their employees fairly.

Posted by Jennie on May. 16, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

unions is because the range of opportunities now for individual workers is so great that people quite simply do not want to be held back by the "every worker is identical and so should get the same deal" mentality that underlies unionism.

When I can freely negotiate signon bonuses, tailored pay and benefits, stock options and individual bonuses, then the idea of a "lowest common denominator" union contract does not appeal.

Unions has their heyday when we were an industrial nation. In a high-tech and service economy, people no longer see unions as relevant. And it is instructive that unions only retian any voice in the bloated, overpaid public sector, where surely their days are numbered.

Unions declined because people no longer see them as helpful.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

And as a result, workers' wages have been stagnant since the '70s as wealth has been consolidated in fewer and fewer hands. Apparently workers aren't freely negotiating very well (here's a hint: negotiations require leverage, which the average worker doesn't have without a union). But I'm sure it's lovely in your little fantasy land, Guest.

Posted by steven on May. 16, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

average worker to become rich thru work. Everyone by now knows the story of the secretary at Google who became a millionaire at the IPO, but the fact is that what Marx anticipated has finally become true. The workers have taken control of the businesses, but not thru unions, revolution or Marxism, but thru stock options and taking risk and ownership in their enterprise.

What has happened is that the average worker now has a far higher chance of joining the seven-figure club, but also a higher risk of staying iin the trenches. Is that better or worse? That depends on whether you have the confidence and ability to succeed. We've become more of a meritocracy, and I can certainly see how that would not please you - you want to reward "just showing up" rather than actually adding value.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

as wealth and income inequalities are increasing. The above comment is an example of uncritical repetition of mythology and propaganda.

The word "meritocracy" has as much relevance to our economic system as the phrase "equality of opportunity." Or the word "democracy" has to our political system.

Work equals freedom. War equals peace. Inequality equals fairness.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

clearly a meritocracy is creating the mobility that succeess requires.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

economic or class mobility, not physical mobility. And social mobility is declining in the United States.

The fact that you think that social mobility means moving from one place to another and if you have "succeeded" financially proves that meritocracy is as big a myth as "the American Dream."

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 7:21 am

That was true during colonization, during the land grabs, during the gold rush, during the great depression and the dustbown, and more recently to the south and west as that is where the most dynamic business flourished.

Social and class mobility come from better economic circumstances, and that comes most to those who move where the ebst jobs are, and not to those who sit tight and whine about things.

I'd venture that the average income of transplants to the Bay Area exceeds those who squate here and demand that everything should be cheaper.

Posted by anon on May. 17, 2013 @ 7:39 am

social mobility is declining in the United States. Although the venomous tone of your screeds against "squatters" and "whiners" makes one equate your definition of "meritocracy" with being an asshole.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 7:54 am

To this cretin, "merit" is represented by the sense of enjoyment one gets by attacking others; a perfect definition of what it means to be an "asshole."

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 17, 2013 @ 8:29 am

before you claim that mobility doesn't exist in the US. It's far more common to move city for work in the US, and most people would say that is a good thing for our economy.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 9:22 am

the definition of social mobility, do you?

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 10:59 am

Social mobility, geographic mobility and economic mobility are all aspects of the same fundamental american freedom.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 11:22 am

Social mobility and geographic mobility are two totally separate phenomena. I agree fully that geographic mobility is far lower in Europe than in the US (I used to live in Europe for 3 years) but SOCIAL mobility is far higher. In fact studies have shown that the US has the LOWEST social mobility of any country in the developed world. To break that down for those on here who still don't understand social mobility, it means that, in the US, if you are born to wealthy parents, odds are strongly in your favor that you will retain and/or exceed the wealth of your parents, whereas if you are born to a poor family, you will remain poor. There are a great number of reasons for this, but a few of the biggest reasons why social mobility is much lower in the US than in Europe is: a) lack of a labor voice to equalize wages and thereby ensure a decent quality of life for the average working family where they will still get to spend time with their family (higher minimum wages and guaranteed minimum incomes mean that very few Europeans need to work multiple jobs to get by; here it is the norm for working class families); b) the cost of a college education (it is free in Europe all the way through your doctorate if you choose) and the lack of vocational training in high schools (in most European countries, a student who studies a vocational program is ready for a skilled job at the end of high school and does not need to take on student loan debt to go to a trade school); and c) the regressive taxation policies in the US that allow the rich to amass an ever greater concentration of wealth while starving out the programs that would allow poor children a bit of equal footing.

And the idea that we don't need unions now because we can negotiate with our bosses ourselves is laughable, unless you are pretty high up the ladder already. Try bargaining with your manager as an entry-level anything, or as a low wage worker, or as line staff pretty much anywhere, and you will either be laughed at or told to go to hell or both. As another commenter noted, in order to bargain, you need leverage. The line staff who do the bulk of the work in companies and nonprofit agencies like this one do not individually have the leverage to negotiate a better salary or benefits or working conditions; they are constantly made to feel disposable as it is. But when they join together, they can. That is the whole idea behind unionism. If you really think that the majority of Americans are at points in their careers where they can successfully negotiate the salary and benefits that would bring them into middle class status on their own, you really are in a fantasy land.

The "American Dream" thrives on the myth that anyone can get rich, no matter how humble their beginnings. It is always the exception that proves the rule. For every one low wage worker who somehow gets rich through an ingenious idea or pure luck, there are another 100,000 or so who remain in poverty their entire lives, despite working 3 jobs. And then they get told by people like the ones commenting here that they must be "lazy" if they are poor, that their poverty is their own fault. It is dangerous territory whenever we claim that the rich all deserve their wealth and the poor all deserve their poverty. How must it feel to get told that, if you want to be able to support your family with dignity, you simply must "work harder," when you are already breaking your back at 2 or 3 jobs and can still barely pay the bills? Until we recognize collectively as a nation that ALL labor has dignity, and that ALL people who want to work deserve a job that allows them to live with dignity, and that ALL working people deserve to be paid enough to live decently, support their families and retire with dignity, we will continue to have this plutocratic society where the rich hoard their obscene wealth, buy politicians and blame those they exploit for being poor.

Posted by Jennie on May. 20, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

That's why american Idol is so popular. The odds are ridiculous, but Americans think it is worth it.

Europeans, on the other hand, do not want to be billionaires. They want to be "comfortable" (to use a term I heard them use a lot over there).

Now, statistically, the European approach might be better - maybe a 80% chance of being "comfortable" beats a 10% chance of being rich. But that doesn't sit well with Americans.

In the end, I think the most important thing is to have a choice. There's Europe if you value sameness and safety, and are willing to pay high taxes to support that. And there's America if you want to go all out for the jackpot.

I prefer the American model and it has served me well. But there is always Europe that the social climate there suits your clothes better.

Posted by Anon on May. 20, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

You sound like someone who has given up. People who give up never suceed. Never. Many people try and do suceed. People of all backgounds and races. Nothing is given. Many get breaks and suceed, many get breaks and fail. It isn't a myth. What is a myth is that people think they have a right to free housing, free food, free healthcare. That is a myth. Everything has a price - be it money, or personal freedom.

Posted by Richmondman on May. 17, 2013 @ 8:34 am

I'm basing my commentary on statistical analysis of economic conditions. Real wages down. Labor participation rates down. Social mobility down. Wealth and income inequality up.

I admire the ability of people to try to improve their situations, but to attribute individual success to "meritocracy" or "the American Dream" in an economic system based on exploitation of many by a few is as insidious a form of mythology as organized religion.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 8:45 am

SF RE is back at an all-time high, Google is nearly $1,000 a share and corporate earnings are rising crisply.

How good the economy looks depends on how you measure it, but businesses exist to make profits and not to ensure that everyone has a job regardless of their skills.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 9:24 am

fundamental tenant of the economic system: profit over people.

Inflated real estate and equity markets (thanks to QE) ameliorate inequalities. Corporate earnings depend on cheaper inputs, especially labor costs and especially in a down economy with stagnant or declining sales.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 10:10 am

It was said 100 years ago but still holds true. Everything you take for granted has been produced by the corporate world, and the quality of your life is unthinkable without the economic system that underpins it.

So businesses don't exist to serve people - it's the other way about. If you contribute to the system you get rewarded. If you'd rather slack off or carp from the gallery, then you'll spend your life broke.

I don't care what you decide but, again, it isn't the primary mission of a business to employ more people or pay them more.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 10:25 am

And a very objective view at that. Just disregard the human and environmental wreckage it leaves behind.

Your attitude proves that it is physically possible to kiss the boss' ass with one's head in the sand.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 10:58 am

the welfare programs that you appear to love all come from - you've guessed it - businesses. Either thru income tax, payroll tax, sales tax, corporate tax, capital gains tax and so on.

So you can rail all you like about big, bad corporations but the simple fact is that you need them far more than they need you. Heck, they don't even need to be in the US, let alone your State or City.

Corporations do not wreck lives. They provide people with an income. Who is going to do that if they don't?

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 11:21 am

have the opportunity. But since you have disdain for humanity and real democracy, you can't see that.

When your benevolent masters have no more use for you, they'll toss you aside as well. You've probably saved money for that reality, so good for you.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 11:54 am

There might be some people who can "provide for themselves" in the backwoods somewhere. Nut it's certainly not you, because you are using a computer, network and internet, all provided by corporations, to make your point here.

And unless you grow and cook your own food, heal yourself when you are sick, and walk everywhere, you further support corporations.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

what are you talking about?! this is social services, LSYS works with homeless young people, there are no stock options! stay on target people! our non-profit is never going public!

Posted by Guest what? on May. 31, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

Nice try, Jennie, but the real cause of the decline in : The guest is incorrect and therefore to be disregarded when posting fallacy concerning union information.

I know Unions help and hold employers accountable . I hope this is not true concerning the fine people at Larkin Street because a black eye is never needed at any time.

If it true than the Adam haas to leave the garden

Posted by Keith Kemp on May. 16, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

If not because the people see them as irrelevant?

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

Your information is void as well as your opinion

Posted by Keith Kemp on May. 16, 2013 @ 3:51 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

work at larkin for a while and then your overly simplistic wide spectrum assumptions will melt away (stock options? what the hell are you talking about?) do you know what Larkin is?

Posted by Guest on May. 31, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

I work at Larkin Street youth center. And the benefits do lack. However it I don't work for the money. But I do expect a living wage. In San Francisco it is particularly hard to you maintain a living wage as a social worker.

that being said, I understand that there are some benefits and some negative effects of being represented by a union.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 25, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

those jobs are now in China or Mexico.

First person dealings with unions tell me that the last thing they care about are the union members. The unelected leadership are all college grads with little interest in such pedestrian issues as the membership.

How dare hard earned tax dollars go to ________________(something that someone somewhere may be offended by)?

Progressives and their studied outrage is so interesting.

Posted by Matlock on May. 16, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

Usually when a non-profit has a union drive, it's due to mistreatment of line staff by management. I'd call it Larkin's chickens coming home to roost.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

Interesting article on Larkin, glad you are highlighting the use of city funds - as SF City & County are the majority funder of LSYS - to oppose Union organizing. The 'Guest' who gave her/his view of Union activity is unfamiliar with the Unions representing the NonProfit Homeless service workers in SF. The Union's role is indeed support of its Members and to fight for their right to a dignified and fair workplace with decent pay and livable benefits. In SF another role of the Unions representing a majority of the NonProfits, is to work in coalition with Non Profit Employers to advocate for adequate funding, and fight disastrous cuts to the nonprofit programs funded by the city.
The ED of LSYS is aware of this, she is a member of an EDs organization that works together with the Unions on advocacy. With an Executive Board loaded with wealthy biz types and corporate lawyers she must be getting lots of anti-Union pressure to fight this organizing campaign. Lets hope she listens to leaders like Mr Ammiano who are reaching out to her, and more importantly, to her own employees.

Posted by B side on May. 16, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

Thanks for nothing.

Posted by anon on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

As a former employee of LSYS, the organization is reaping what it sowed. The random firing's, harrassement of employees, and general disregard for employees was a long time coming. They were able to avoid a union a few years ago becuase they tossed money at the staff. Like many arrogant organizations, they refused to change their approach, and built a whole new generation of pissed off employees.
They do great work, but they tend to have great staff.

Posted by Joe on May. 17, 2013 @ 5:37 am

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 16, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

as we speak, organizing to bring in a union.

Or, at least, if not, they will explain to us why they are not.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

Every workplace needs a union no matter how small or large. Even sole proprietorships should have unions. Families should have unions. Pets should have unions.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:36 pm
Posted by anon on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

Search the Guardian for Steve Jones' article on SEIU Local 1021 from 2-12-13
"Union divisions"
SEIU Local 1021 fights with employers — and its own employees — over salary and benefit cuts

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

No need to search for it, I already linked to it in my article.

Posted by steven on May. 16, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

You mention that "LSYS management has also posted flyers with inaccurate information", and you show a picture of a flyer. There seem to be footnotes on the flyer but the references are cut off. Can you provide them so folks can check for themselves the accuracy? Thanks

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2013 @ 6:32 am

I always spent my half an hour to read this website's
articles or reviews every day along with a mug of coffee.

Posted by Tiffany and Co Australia on Jul. 08, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

It is good to spend public funds on the political agenda of progressives because they are offended if they don't get a slice of the pie, it is bad to spend money on the political agenda of others because it will offend progressives.

City funds go to a pride event that is not interested in Bradley Manning, this offends progressives. Tax paying persons in the city who don't like Bradley manning can lump it.

City funds go to a non profit that may be anti SEIU, this is an outrage to progressives, progressives pay taxes(ahem) so these non-profits should not take this stance.

Progressives have a strange sense of entitlement, they can be outraged that their tax dollars go to union busting, they can be outraged that their tax dollars don't support Bradley Manning being a pride marshal.


They expect that other people who may not agree with their agenda should foot the bill for these things.

It is an outrage that their taxes don't go to what they feel entitled too, but not an outrage that the things they whine about are paid for by people who couldn't give a shit about any of it.

Posted by Matlock on May. 16, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

basically 1021 needs more money to continue to lobby to blow out the budget for city workers' wages (most of whom don't live in SF) and is now going to Non Profit Inc. for funding. Who do I root for in this asshole vs. asshole scenario?

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

those of us that work with homeless young people of this city are not assholes. for most of us this not about money it's about being treated with respect by employers that abuse their authority and implement cronyism every time an employee disagrees with the status quo!

Posted by Guest on May. 31, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

In California, union representation and strength is actually growing. While that may not be the case across the country (especially in states like Michigan and Wisconsin), the labor trends within our state are actually more relevant.

SEIU Local 1021 organizes places like Larkin Street, because we believe in the workers there. We support the right of workers to come together to fight for improvements to their working conditions and for the services that they provide. In this case, the addition of a unit of fewer than 100 people is actually an overall drag on our budget. (The cost to organize and represent the workers and to negotiate their contracts will actually exceed the dues money that will eventually come in.) While our finances may not directly benefit from this organizing, our union becomes stronger as we put our ideals into action. That's the labor movement that I signed up for. And that's the labor movement that we are now building here in California.

Posted by Chris Daly on May. 17, 2013 @ 6:48 am

How much is Chris Daly's salary, and what are his job duties?

Posted by Richmondman on May. 20, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

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