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Politics & Policy

Union threatens strike over Prop. F, San Francisco’s new drug screening law

Service Employees International Union Local 1021 is taking its concerns about Proposition F to the state labor relations board.

A person in a purple jacket speaks into a mic at a rally with a "FIX OUR CITY" banner in the background.
Labor organizers from SEIU Local 2021 are raising the possibility of a strike over Prop. F, a ballot measure that ties cash benefits to drug screenings for some welfare recipients. The union’s president, Theresa Rutherford, said the measure could harm workers. | Source: Courtesy

One of San Francisco’s largest unions has asked a California labor board to void Proposition F, a ballot measure that mandates drug screening for some cash welfare recipients, after it was approved by voters this week. 

The Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents city employees at the Human Services Agency, filed an unfair practice charge on March 7 with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). The union asked the board to void Prop. F on the grounds that the measure could adversely affect workers and that the city was required to give prior notice before placing it on the ballot. 

“We will also file a Request to Expedite, which asks PERB to put this case to the front of its queue due to the urgency of the matter,” said Theresa Rutherford, president of SEIU Local 1021.

Prop. F affects single adults with no children who receive County Adult Assistance Programs, a cash program known as CAAP. If an individual is suspected of being addicted to illegal drugs, they will be required to undergo drug screening and agree to some form of treatment as a condition of continuing to receive benefits. 

The measure passed handily with San Francisco voters, receiving about 60% of votes according to the latest tally. Prop. F’s sponsor, Mayor London Breed, has argued that more accountability is needed for people who use city funds to abuse illegal drugs. Opponents argue the measure is punitive and will harm some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. 

In a filing, the union argued that Prop. F could put workers who interact with welfare recipients at risk. Short-staffing among city workers makes Prop. F “all but impossible to execute fairly and consistently without substantial new investment in staffing, training, and worker safety,” Rutherford said. 

“We reserve the right to initiate legal proceedings and engage in collective worker actions to protest the city’s persistent unfair labor practices, up to and including an unfair labor practice strike,” Rutherford said. 

In a Feb. 26 letter, Jonathan Rolnick, chief labor attorney at the City Attorney’s Office, responded to the union’s claim that the city was required to provide notice and an opportunity to bargain over the ballot measure. Rolnick wrote that the SEIU’s reasoning was incorrect and outside the scope of what would be considered a bargaining matter.

“Your assertions that if Prop. F passes, there will be an increase in threats to these employees’ safety and their workloads will increase is entirely speculative and thus does not trigger an obligation to meet and confer,” Rolnick wrote.

He added that any new trainings or changes to work protocols “do not reflect a significant and adverse effect on working conditions.”

Trent Rhorer, executive director of the Human Services Agency, said in an email Wednesday that Prop. F will be implemented starting on Jan. 1, 2025. He said the substance use screenings will be conducted by a clinician and include a set of questions combined with the clinician’s observations of the client. 

“HSA has been planning since it went on the ballot and will continue to do so,” Rhorer said.

David Sjostedt contributed to this report.
Annie Gaus can be reached at