Kim Evon proudly serves as an Executive Vice President of SEIU Local 2015—California’s Long Term Care Union representing more than 400,000 home care and nursing home workers throughout California. Kim, who began her labor career as a rank and file union member, brings her vast experience building union power leading with members in Region 5 and our Justice for All programs.
The daughter of a proud factory worker and union member, Kim learned at a young age that you need to do your part and if you’re not fighting for justice, you’re part of the problem.
Along her career path in the labor movement, Kim frequently encountered people who encouraged her and gave her confidence as a woman in what had been a male-dominated world of labor organizing. Where she felt like she didn’t have experience, women union leaders encouraged her and gave her important roles. When she felt like a job was too big, there was frequently a union leader there urging her on, giving her the confidence to bring her passion for justice and lead with it. And this modeled for Kim what it means to be a labor leader: you reflect back to people the power and capacity they have inside themselves.
Kim’s leadership in the labor movement started when she was a young hospital worker fresh out of high school. One day, a union organizer asked Kim to sign a card, a step in forming a union at her hospital. She noticed that the union’s newsletter didn’t really speak to what workers felt, what workers wanted. So she spoke up at the first union meeting she attended and the union organizer said “Great, why don’t you produce the newsletter?”
Well, the rest is history. Kim, a full-time Unit Secretary at a hospital in Rhode Island, wrote the newsletter. She effectively connected the dots for her colleagues—the newsletter talked about how it just didn’t make sense for hospital administrators to rake in piles of endowment money and spend it on vanity projects while they hiked employee healthcare costs tenfold and kept wages stagnant. Kim helped spearhead one of the largest hospital union organizing campaigns in the mid-90s—1,800 of her colleagues won their union and now had a powerful, collective voice.
During that 18-month campaign, Kim saw what “the boss” was capable of—intimidation, “captive audience” meetings filled with anti-union rhetoric, retaliation, propaganda. But she also felt what it was like to go toe-to-toe with authority for the first time, march on the boss to demand recognition of her union and stand together to demand that her co-workers be treated with dignity and respect. And it was a powerful experience.
When it came time to bargain their first contract, Kim was at the table. She realized very early in her union career that a union contract is more than just wages and break times. She saw that it could raise industry standards and stop dangerous “cost savings” that endangered patients and staff. She wrote one of the key articles in that first contract on safe handling of biohazards.
A woman Kim met while organizing her hospital introduced her to some leaders at SEIU 767 (now part of SEIU Local 1199), a local hospital workers’ union. They offered her a job with them and Kim took it. She immediately noticed how different it felt. Local 767’s union hall was in an old house on Main Street with its walls covered in pictures of members in action. Its leaders were former healthcare workers and VISTA volunteers. This union was led by women. It was a far cry from her first exposure to unions, which were pretty much 100% male. Some union halls didn’t even let women in as recently as the 1980s.
During her seven years at 767, Kim learned a tremendous amount about organizing and what it means to really build power. And then she felt a certain restlessness start to creep in. She realized that she yearned to be in a place that was more diverse and could challenge her to learn more from others who didn’t look like her. That’s when a mentor suggested Kim apply for a job as an Education Coordinator at SEIU’s International Union headquarters in Washington, D.C. Kim didn’t feel at all qualified, but her mentor encouraged her. Kim got the job.
Eighteen months later, the Director of the Public Division asked Kim to consider the Deputy Director position. Again Kim demurred, thinking she lacked the political experience necessary. Other strong women around her encouraged her to think about it, including the International Union’s Chief of Staff. Each time, Kim would list off the reasons why she didn’t think she was qualified. Kim finally accepted the job after being reminded that if she were a man, she would have wondered why they didn’t ask her a year earlier.
It was during this time that she learned the ins and outs of public sector unions from the leaders and members she met across the country. She saw elected officials trying to underfund programs—like schools and airports and social services—and then point to the resulting problems and say “it needs to be privatized.” At the same time, Kim also saw clearly what happens when things get privatized: corners get cut, profits come first, people even die.
In 2007, Kim was asked to take an Area Staff Director position in California, working with local unions to join with others across the country to build collective power on national issues. The labor movement was really coming to terms with the importance of this kind of unity—we didn’t serve our members when we only focused on our own local union’s interests. It’s when we stand together that we make change.
In her Area Staff Director role, Kim was involved in working with other local leaders to develop a responsive call center designed to free up union organizers to do what they do best: build worker power. SEIU Local 2015’s Member Action Center (“The MAC”) came out of this work.
In 2009, Kim joined the leadership team of SEIU’s United Long Term Care Workers Union, which several years later joined with other California long-term care local unions in 2015 to form SEIU Local 2015. Watching long-term care workers—both home care and nursing home workers—come together from up and down California taught Kim how powerful it is when providers join with one another and with disability and senior rights activists to achieve change in our industry—change that benefits both workers and those they care for.
Kim remembers countless caregivers she’s met over the years—women and men who, despite what they deal with every day, wake up every morning asking “What can I do? Who can I help?” Strength rooted in love can accomplish anything. Kim has had a front row seat, witnessing incredible victories that benefit both caregivers and their consumers. Things like:
- Passage of safe staffing ratios for skilled nursing facilities designed to increase the number of care hours provided to patients by CNAs;
- Restoration of vital In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) hours of care that had been cut in previous state budgets;
- Worker contracts that secure training funds to advance workers’ ability to handle the growing needs of those in their care;
- Standards that improve wages and benefits needed to retain and attract the long term caregivers necessary to meet growing demand.
In addition to her work as an Executive Vice President of SEIU Local 2015, Kim was elected by SEIU delegates to the national convention to serve as an SEIU International Executive Board Member. Kim furthers her dedication to long-term caregivers by serving for the last ten years as a Board Member of the Center for Caregiver Advancement—a national leader in developing and providing training for long-term care workers that has demonstrated outcomes on increasing the delivery of quality care and cost savings. With her leadership, the Center won an $11 million grant to train 6,000 California home care providers. This training is a model for reducing hospitalizations, emergency room visits and improving healthcare outcomes.
Kim is passionate about empowering long-term care providers to contribute their compassion, talents and leadership to be agents of change in their own lives, their workplace, those they care for, and their communities. She believes in the importance of demonstrating the critical value that long term-care workers play in our broader communities by creating standards in which all long term care workers earn a livable wage, have quality, affordable health insurance, are able to access retirement, and have a seat at the table in discussions regarding the future of long-term care services.
When she’s not meeting with members or stakeholders, Kim enjoys playing tennis, reading and spending time with her family and German shepherd at her home in Burbank, California.