2017 CEO Special Election Candidate Statements

Download the Candidate Statement Sheet* (PDF)

*NOTE: Heidi Pham voluntarily withdrew from SEIU 521 CEO Election on January 18, 2017.

In addition to their statements on the sheet, your five CEO (Chief Elected Officer) candidates have submitted the following:

Catherine Balbas, Member of SEIU 521 since 2002

Managing Regional Director of the Central Valley, SEIU 521

Catherine BalbasAs a union, we’ll be facing some tough challenges in the immediate future. We’ll have to adapt quickly and be innovative in our approach to protect and grow our union. SEIU Local 521 members will need a leader that has a unique blend of experience as a member and union leader. With 15 years as a Madera county worker and nearly 20 years as SEIU staff, I am the most capable to hit the ground running as your Chief Elected Officer.

During my time at Madera County, I worked in a variety of jobs, including Emergency Dispatcher, Social Worker and Corrections Officer. As Chapter Chair at Local 535, I helped successfully negotiate several milestones in our contracts, including pay differential, direct deposit, and safer working conditions.

Ever since, I’ve devoted my life to helping California’s working families form unions, improve jobs and working conditions, and securing strong contracts that put members on the path to a better future.

I have served in several capacities at SEIU Local 521 and Local 535, including Lead Organizer, Organizing Director, Chief of Staff and currently as Managing Regional Director of the Central Valley.

I have lead and managed teams that protected thousands of union workers from employer attempts to strip pay and benefits. I helped Fresno County build the Better Valley Health Coalition to improve access to quality, affordable health insurance solutions for union members and the communities they serve.

As Organizing Director, I introduced our union to new industries for growth, including non-profit agencies, developmental disability centers, and child care providers while organizing new workers and growing our membership. I also launched the Member to Member Program, a member-based collaboration that connects union members across industries and geographies to strengthen the voices of working families in our communities.

I have extensive experience maintaining large-scale budgets, leading complex campaigns, managing dozens of union staff, and making critical decisions to ensure our union operates effectively and efficiently.

I care and know your issues because I’ve been a member myself. I will work around the clock to keep our union moving forward. SEIU Local 521 is member-driven, and I want to make sure that every member and every chapter has the tools and support to win better contracts and create stronger, more connected communities. Together, we can build a union that is effective, efficient and focuses on the issues that matter the most to you.

Thank you for your support!

For more information about myself and the campaign, visit www.membersfirst2017.com

Join the Members First Movement at www.facebook.com/membersfirst2017

wRen Bradley, Member of SEIU 521 since 1988

Emergency Response CPS Social Work Supervisor, Santa Clara County

wRen BradleyGreetings Sisters/Brothers,

We need a strong leader as the CEO who comes from the rank and file knowing the struggles we face every day.  I have the unique qualifications that no other candidate has to fulfill that role.



I would be honored to have your vote.

My short biography spanning over 40 years! Bilingual English/Spanish, SEIU member since 1988

  • Nursing home worker NJ –opened the door to unionization. Workers now unionized.
  • In nursing, Philadelphia–worked with 1199 organizing hospital workers at Drexel, workers now unionized.
  • Deep proven roots in the United Farm Workers over 3 years; worked directly with Cesar Chavez; organizer, nurse practitioner, Director of Salinas clinic. Pay I received was 5$ a week. I have a published article on my experience and am included in books written about the movement and Cesar Chavez.
  • Nurse practitioner, Planned Parenthood — filed multiple “concerted activity” charges with the NLRB winning every time– opened the door to unionization. Workers now represented by SEIU.
  • Organized state workers in Georgia—on to Illinois to organize day care providers– successful in getting day care workers into SEIU 999
  • Case carrying CPS social worker for 18 years (Monterey and Santa Clara Counties).
  • Rank and file Chapter President 9 years in Monterey County in SEIU 535
  • Field Representative for 9 years in Los Angeles County, Monterey, Santa Clara County American Red Cross, SARC and HOPE — In LA County–filed the largest grievance ever; went to arbitration–social workers received huge settlements as a result.
  • Currently, I am a CPS Social Work Supervisor in Emergency Response in Santa Clara County—Chief Steward for 8 years, Deputy Chair for 2 years, and now Chapter Chair of 9000 members for last 6 years. In Santa Clara County– instrumental in pursuing a grievance for social workers resulting in a six million dollar back pay settlement. Over 240 social workers benefitted.
  • Negotiated well over 100 contracts in public and private sector. I have a deep understanding of County, State and Local budgets.  I also understand and have been vocal about our own Union budget and the lack of representation at our worksites.
  • Instrumental in getting SB 2030 legislation passed to get caseload reductions for social workers in CPS. The Standards are there; now we need to get legislation to fund the reductions in caseloads. Our union has done nothing to lobby for these caseload reductions despite my efforts to get a Children’s Committee and legislation instituted.

I am the only candidate who has negotiated over 100 union contracts; worked on hundreds of political campaigns in California, New Mexico, Illinois, Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Nevada; has filed 100s of grievances; represented 100s of workers in Weingarten investigations (winning),  Skelly Hearings (winning), and EEO complaints;. You will be my sole focus if I am elected.

Please contact me at labormatterswren@gmail.com ; call on my personal cell 831-206-4829; to see my video, please go onto my FACEBOOK page.


Robert Li, Member of SEIU 521 since 2003

Director of Operations, SEIU 521

Robert LiAs our next CEO, I plan to work side-by-side with members to build a real Union that wins for us and our families. As we begin 2017, we all recognize the stakes are simply too high for us to be complacent and practice politics-as-usual.

I believe to form a real Union that thrives in a volatile world, we must disrupt the status of quo.

Keeping the status quo only promises us a familiar story of declining wages, staggering wealth inequality, and the unraveling of the American Dream.  Furthermore, maintaining our Union’s status quo will simply keep us at low member engagement and dwindling number of new leaders from lack of dedicated education and training resources.

I believe it is time for us to shake up the status quo and clear the way to build a real Union for today’s world.  2017 threatens to bring on a whole different set of attacks against our social and civil liberties. And just as before in our nation’s history, it will be Unions to help lead the fight-back and demand new rules in our economy and democracy that actually benefit families, workers and communities.

Disrupting the status quo starts with the following strategies:

  1. ORGANIZE: Invest in and develop member-activists and leaders; devise a local-wide plan with clear priorities, standards, accountability and transparency.
  2. MODERNIZE: Equip ourselves with 21st century technology; re-brand our Union to be relevant; maximize union-building and minimize inefficiencies.
  3. REVOLUTIONIZE: Change the status quo of politics, union representation and bargaining; learn, adapt, and innovate.
  4. RECRUIT, RETAIN, AND DEVELOP STAFF TALENT: Become a premier employer that attracts top-talent staff to work alongside our members.

I was raised by immigrant parents who made tremendous personal sacrifices to help our family achieve a better life. Fourteen years ago after studying Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, I decided to honor my parents’ sacrifices by working for our Union whose core mission is to help lift up hard-working people.  Today, as a husband and young father of a 19-month old daughter, my resolve to improve our families’ lives has only strengthened.

Join me and let’s build a real union together!



  • Only candidate with extensive experience leading all major SEIU 521 programs – External, Internal and Operations departments.
  • Only candidate who has executed the toughest work of the Union: Organizing nonunion workers in the Central Valley; fighting back the Union’s largest decerts; and bargaining the Union’s largest contracts.


  • Initiated SEIU 521 Transformation process to better equip members to thrive in an ever-changing political landscape.
  • Launched the Local’s first “Community First” contract campaign to demonstrate good union contracts can achieve great public good.

Proven Leader

  • As SEIU 521 Co-Chief-of Staff, managed 80+ personnel.
  • Co-led the Local’s largest organizing campaign in Tulare County, uniting 1,300 new members into SEIU 521.
  • Directed SEIU Quality Care at Home Campaign to win the highest wages and largest number of free trainings for Home Care workers in California.



Riko Mendez, Member of SEIU 521 since 2004

Political and Community Organizing Director, SEIU 521

Riko MendezI’m Riko Mendez, and I am asking for your support and leadership to build a strong, united union that can thrive into the future. Members like you and I are concerned about the impact anti worker attacks will have on our families. That’s why I am running to become the Chief Elected Officer of our union. Your voice is most important in our union, please make your voice heard by voting in this election.

As a leader for 15 years, working with union members has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Alongside members, I have won strong contracts, protected jobs, wages, health benefits, and pensions. My record of victories is unmatched by any other candidate for CEO. I have helped raise billions in dollars in revenues for public sector jobs resulting in raises and benefit increases for members. I’ve helped write laws that have saved thousands of union jobs from contracting out and have helped expand pensions to millions of Californians. I’ve done all of this with honesty and integrity as guiding principles.

Now more than ever, you need a leader you can trust. The new federal administration threatens to reduce funding for our public and nonprofit services and jobs. In this time of uncertainty, we need a leader who understands policy, politics, coalition building, and who has experience working at all levels of government. I am that leader. I will always fight to protect all workers’ rights and our union. As your Chief Elected Officer (CEO), I will dedicate myself to:

Protecting our progress by:

  • Protecting our hard-fought pensions and expanding retirement security to level the playing field
  • Finding and creating revenue sources to fund our members’ vital work

Building power at our worksites by:

  • Increasing resources for contract negotiations
  • Expanding the number of stewards by streamlining the steward training process
  • Investing in staff so our worksites and member leaders are supported

Building power in our communities & beyond by:

  • Growing our union by organizing non-union workers through large scale campaigns
  • Leading at the highest levels of federal and state negotiations
  • Forging community coalitions and alliances with others who share our members’ values

Ensuring transparency and accountability within our Local by:

  • Leading the union’s day-to-day work with the direction of our President, Executive Board, and member-leaders
  • Improving our communications and website so all members can stay engaged and proud of our work

Securing our future for ourselves and our families by:

  • Supporting the next generation of leaders in our union
  • Innovating and planning for the future of our work

I know that we can win, but we must be ready to fight and we must be ready to lead. Our united voice is powerful and can change the world. Please make your voice heard. Vote for me, Riko Mendez for Chief Elected Officer of SEIU Local 521. United We Win.

Visit us on the web at: www.rikomendez.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/rikomendez521/

Heidi Pham*, Member of SEIU 521 since 2001

Probation Community Worker, Santa Clara County Probation Dept.

*NOTE: Heidi Pham voluntarily withdrew from SEIU 521 CEO Election on January 18, 2017.

Heidi PhamI cherish transparency, open communication, honesty, trustworthiness and fiscal responsibility. These are the value I wish to bring to our union and put into practice. Our rainbow of hard working members deserves leadership that listens to their concerns and acts on their ideas. As a single mother, child orphan, college degree, negotiator, steward and 15 years union member plus United States Navy experience, I will honor and understand the varied needs of our members.

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