Lavish gifts, Expensive Trips: Was California State Worker Union Leader’s Spending Justified?

Newly published credit card statements detail past spending by the longtime leader of California’s largest state employee union, showing she spent nearly $7,000 on gifts for top union officers and thousands of dollars on international travel for union purposes.

The documents show former SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker paid $4,500 to Disney Resorts in the largest gift to an outgoing officer, $5,700 for a flight to Tel Aviv for a labor event and $159 for a celebration at Sacramento’s Device Brewing Company, along with other expenditures.

The spending is identified in six years’ worth of credit card statements posted online two weeks ago by Richard Louis Brown, who defeated Walker and four other candidates in a May election for union president. Brown, who promised transparency during his campaign, posted his own statements along with those of the past officers.

All the spending potentially was justifiable, according to a nonprofit tax expert, but the details provided new fodder for both sides in a bitter standoff within the union, where a slim majority of the organization’s 65-member board of directors held a meeting and a vote to strip Brown of his leadership powers. Brown has called the meeting illegitimate, citing a union policy that meetings must be called by the president, and has retained his leadership powers.

Brown criticized the gifts in particular during a meeting Wednesday night that he livestreamed on Facebook.

“A lot of you are really upset about this, and you should be,” he said.

The trove of spending records opens a window on how Walker led the organization in the second half of her 13 years in office. Walker wielded political influence in the Capitol but also frustrated some state workers who wanted Local 1000 to limit its focus to members’ pay and benefits. The union represents nearly 100,000 state employees and has an annual budget of about $48 million.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

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