The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 is an Oregon-based government worker union and local affiliate of the controversial SEIU labor union. SEIU 503 represents care-workers, nonprofit employees, and public workers throughout Oregon.
SEIU 503 actively pushes for left-of-center economic policy and aggressive unionization in Oregon, leading the charge on minimum wage hikes, mandated union membership dues, and increased regulation of labor. SEIU 503 has been involved in several lawsuits in recent years, especially following the 2018 United States Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which held that all policies forcing government employee non-union-members required to accept union representation as a condition of employment to pay union fees violated the First Amendment. 
SEIU 503 was founded in 1966 and claims 72,000 members, though its annual reports to the U.S. Department of Labor show only about 45,000 including retiree members.  SEIU 503 claims to represent employees in over 500 different jobs in 85 governmental and non-profit organizations.  Union members work in home care, child care, nursing homes, non-profit organizations, and state and local government positions.  As of 2019, SEIU 503 is the largest union in Oregon. 
SEIU Local 503 is a member of several left-wing coalitions in Oregon, including A Better Oregon Coalition. SEIU 503 is a founding member of the coalition that is seeking to increase government spending by $6 billion in Oregon, funding by dramatically increasing corporate taxes.  SEIU 503 is also a founding member of Fair Shot for All, an Oregon coalition which has fought for a wide swath of left-wing policy change since 2015.  Fair Shot for All has led the push for increased sick days for public employees, hikes to the Oregon minimum wage, and increased access to abortions.  In 2019 alone, Fair Shot for All pushed for rent control measures, universal paid family leave, and increased access of recent immigrants to driver’s licenses. 
SEIU 503 is a major force in Oregon Democratic politics, advocating for a wide range of left-of-center policies. SEIU 503 has been primarily involved in advocating for minimum wage hikes, increased corporate regulation, and strengthened union privileges.
CareWorks is a project of SEIU Local 503, which serves as a lobbying and activism organization to increase government funding for public health care services in Oregon.  CareWorks has lobbied for increasing the pay and ensuring their ability to unionize, in addition to fighting for increased regulation of the private care industry. 
CareWorks has promoted several Oregon bills that SEIU 503 has backed. Oregon SB 669 seeks to increase the regulation of the private care industry by setting government-enforced standards for oversight on private home care businesses.  The bill also aims to increase regulation of the industry by demanding that training programs be standardized under the Oregon Home Care Commission, making it harder for new workers to enter the industry.  The SEIU 503-backed bill further seeks increased penalties for private businesses which violate state regulations, while also fighting to make private business information available to the public by a government mandate. 
SEIU 503 has also supported SB 725, a bill which will relax background checks for public care workers by removing DUIs older than 10 years and marijuana charges from consideration.  SEIU 503, through CareWorks, is also supporting HB 2490, a bill which calls for increased government oversight of the Oregon long-term care industry. HB 2490 requests that the Labor Commissioner to establish a Long Term Care Wage Board in order to establish wage and working conditions standards. 
Minimum Wage Advocacy
In 2015, SEIU 503 led the Fair Shot for All coalition to dramatically increase the Oregon minimum wage to $14.75 in Portland, $13.50 elsewhere, and $12.50 in non-urban communities, nearly double the federal minimum wage. 
SEIU 503 has been at the forefront of other wage hikes as well, including a 2015 mandated minimum wage of $15 per hour for homecare workers.  In July 2019, SEIU 503 successfully negotiated a two-year contract with the Oregon government to increase pay automatically for state employees by 10-15%, in addition to a 3% cost of living adjustment.  The new contract includes the largest wage increase passed in Oregon since 2007. 
In September 2019, SEIU 503 published a report entitled “Misplaced Priorities” in which author Daniel Morris argued that Oregon’s public universities had invested in top administrator salaries, sports programs, and construction at the expense of classified workers.  The report called for greater legislative oversight in the university spending process and nearly provoked 5,000 classified workers to strike. 
After almost a month of negotiation, the union pushed university management to accept the largest cost of living adjustment in over a decade, stabilize health care costs regardless of the market, and offer a 48-hour leave bank for employees in inclement weather. 
Freedom Foundation Lawsuits
In August 2015, the libertarian think tank Freedom Foundation expanded to Oregon and launched a federal class action lawsuit against SEIU 503.  In addition to SEIU 503, the Freedom Foundation sued Governor Kate Brown (D) and six other Oregon government agencies.  The suit argued that the SEIU and state could not collect union dues from homecare workers who did not opt-in to union membership.  The suit also claimed that the SEIU 503’s exclusivity as the bargaining agent for homecare workers was illegal because it violated workers’ First Amendment rights to free assembly and petition.  The lawsuit was unsuccessful. 
In January of 2018, the Freedom Foundation sued once again on behalf of 14 care providers in Entwistle v. Brown, alleging that SEIU 503 refused to honor requests to opt out of automatic union dues.  The case is ongoing. 
In June 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that unions could no longer compel public employees who were not union members but were required to accept union representation as a condition of employment to pay union fees.  The Freedom Foundation sued SEIU 503 on these grounds in September 2018 on behalf of 12 public workers in a class action suit to collect reimbursement for six years of compulsory payments they were forced to give the union.  In July, SEIU 503 settled with one Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee for nearly $3,000, settling two years of fees. 
In 2019, the Freedom Foundation sued SEIU 503 again on behalf of three Oregon public school teachers on the grounds that limiting the “window” for members to opt out to just one month of the year is contrary to the Janus decision and the First Amendment.  The suit was filed on the same day that the Oregon House passed the “Public Workers Protection Act,” a direct response to the decision designed to strengthen unions in Oregon by making it more difficult for non-members to opt out of paying dues. 
In 2014, SEIU 503 leadership approved a proposal to unite with another SEIU local chapter, SEIU 49, in an attempt to increase the unions’ political influence.  The move was instantly criticized by membership who saw it as a play to move power out of the hands of members and into those of the SEIU’s powerful international leadership in Washington, D.C..  Joe DiNicola, a former president of SEIU 503, criticized the move as an “international takeover” of the union and charged the leadership with attempting to rush through the process.  When put to a vote to the General Council of the union, the measure failed dramatically. 
This is not the first time that SEIU 503 has faced internal controversy. In 2007, DiNicola filed a claim against SEIU 503 for $110,000 in overtime pay accrued during his time as president, which SEIU 503 refused to pay.  In an extremely ironic response, union leadership allegedly retaliated against DiNicola by attempting to recall him from office. 
DiNicola lost his wage claim, but the Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that the union engaged in unlawful employment practices by failing to stop “retaliatory and threatening conduct” against DiNicola by union members in the workplace.  Email communications revealed Dawn Morgan, a former SEIU 503 president, telling Leslie Frane, the executive director of the chapter, to “blackmail” DiNicola into resigning.  Frane also “apparently provided” a confidential document regarding the wage claim to Robert Gourley, then-treasurer for the retiree’s local division. 
People and Funding
SEIU 503 has a leadership structure consisting of a 380-person General Council, a Board of Directors, and an Executive Committee.  The Executive Committee consists of five statewide officers, in addition to three Board Members, and it meets every other month.  The current executive director of SEIU 503 is Melissa Unger. Unger has spent fifteen years with SEIU 503, serving as staff leader and political director before becoming executive director.  The current SEIU 503 President is Steve Demarest.  Demarest led the 2013 contract negotiations for state workers, alongside supporting a broader left-wing agenda in Oregon.  Demarest is an attorney who also volunteers with the Housing Justice Project, advocating for left-progressive housing reform through the courts.