CalPERS retirees elect longtime SEIU president to represent them on pension board

Renée C. Byer/rbyer@sacbee.com

Get the State Worker newsletter

Work for the state of California? Get the latest news on pensions, pay and more in the State Worker newsletter.

SIGN UP

Former California union boss Yvonne Walker won election for a seat representing retired public employees on the 13-member CalPERS Board of Administration for the next five years, according to voting results announced Thursday in Sacramento.

“I am honored to have the trust, confidence and support of my fellow CalPERS retirees,” said the 63-year-old Walker. “I am ready to get to work to ensure all CalPERS retirees receive the secure retirement benefits they earned for years of hard work serving the people of California. I look forward to working with my fellow board members so that CalPERS continues to lead in showing how defined benefit pension systems can thrive.”

As a member of the board, Walker will be responsible for setting policies for retirement and health benefits on behalf of California public employers and their active and retired employees. This body oversees the asset allocation of the pension fund’s estimated $449 billion investment portfolio.

Walker, who led Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union 2008 through 2021, secured the seat with 56.9% of the vote in a runoff election that pitted her against Randall Cheek, the legislative director of the Retired Public Employees Association, a volunteer position.

Walker and Cheek had worked together at SEIU 1000 for a number of years when he was a lobbyist for the union. Cheek, who’s now retired, said Wednesday that he had driven and flown all around the state — making stops in Santa Cruz, Hemet, Placerville and more — as he fought to overcome Walker’s name recognition and sizable campaign chest.

“I appreciate a good campaign,” said Cheek, who said he planned to congratulate Walker on her win. “I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to run and to meet all kinds of people and go up and down the state and talk to retirees.”

Cheek had won endorsements from the Peace Officers Research Association of California, Retired Public Employees Association of California and a number of other groups. He said he would continue to advocate for greater transparency at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Walker succeeds former trustee Henry Jones who resigned halfway through his fourth four-year term last year after a cancer diagnosis. Consequently, Walker will serve a five-year that will begin once the ballot results are approved by the California Secretary of State.

Walkers said that, at the campaign stops she made, she heard from retirees who were concerned about the high cost of health care and rate hikes on long-term care policies. She was endorsed by SEIU, the California School Employees Association, and the California Faculty Association, among others.

Walker led some major initiatives as SEIU Local 1000’s president, coordinating with other unions to shepherd through proposals for a $15 minimum wage and housing affordability.

Three other CalPERS board members have affiliations with SEIU. Board President Theresa Taylor was elected SEIU 1000’s vice president/secretary-treasurer in 2015 and oversaw its $62 million budget through June 2018. Ramón Rubalcava, a legislative appointee, has worked more than 30 years for SEIU Local 721 as a benefits director, serving public-sector workers in Southern California. And, Mulissa Willette heads up SEIU 521, which represents more than 53,000 workers.

SEIU California spent about $400,000 supporting Jones in 2019. The organization contributed heavily to an independent expenditure committee that raised $500,000 to support winning candidates David Miller and Jose-Luis Pacheco last year. This spring, the union spent about $240,000 to back winner Willette.