Economy & Business

The Corner

SEIU’s Fight for $15 Hypocrisy

Conservatives believe mandatory $15 starting wages are economically harmful. It seems the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) agrees. The union funds the Fight for $15 campaign. It also pays the campaign’s staff less than $15 an hour, while stymieing efforts to unionize. SEIU wants businesses to do as it says, not as it does.

A few years ago, a $15 minimum wage was virtually unthinkable. Even liberals agreed it would hurt workers. That has changed. Both California and New York State have imposed statewide $15 minimums. Many other cities, such as Seattle and Washington D.C., have done so as well. In July, the Democratic Party put a $15 minimum in its official party platform.

The Service Employees International Union is largely responsible for this transformation. The union has spent millions on PR campaigns promoting   the Fight for $15. The union also pays local field organizers. These organizers directed the fast food “strikes” that received significant media attention (though they involved very few actual employees).

Conservatives respond that minimum $15 starting wages would cause mass layoffs and hurt disadvantaged workers. I estimate that $15 mandates would eliminate about 9 million jobs nationwide. The SEIU and the Fight for $15 dismiss these concerns as “myths.”

Be that as it may, the SEIU apparently believes $15 and a union would hurt its own operations. It pays many “Fight for $15” staff less than $15 an hour. Moreover SEIU has actively resisted their efforts to unionize. At the recent Fight for $15 convention, the field organizers protested the union that funds their operations. As the (very liberal) In These Times reported:

“Fight for $15 organizers have a long list of grievances against SEIU. They are worried about the instability of their jobs and a tendency of the union to ramp up staff for one campaign, then shift only some of the staff to the next project. Others argue that because of the long hours, their relatively modest salaries do not amount to $15 an hour by the time their pay is divided by work hours, often much more than 40 hours a week.

But the biggest grievance organizers express is that SEIU pays them to advocate for the right of every worker to join a union but denies that same right to its own organizers … ‘We don’t have the right to join a union that we’re fighting for other workers to have,’ she [a Fight for $15 organizer] told In These Times. ‘When we’re fighting for everyone to have $15 an hour, we should have it ourselves.’”

The SEIU runs the Fight for $15 through local organizing committees. These committees formally employ the field organizers. Nonetheless, essentially all their funding and directives comes from SEIU (down to working in SEIU offices). The SEIU does not give these committees enough to pay $15 an hour. Instead field organizers get salaries that often equate to less than $15 on an hourly basis.

These field organizers want $15 an hour. They also want union representation, from the (aptly-named) Union of Union Representatives (UUR). SEIU has actively fought both requests. By routing funding through local committees, the SEIU avoids the formal obligation to bargain with its organizers. The union has refused UUR requests to bargain directly (a refusal which appears to run afoul of the Obama NLRB’s new Joint-Employer Doctrine, which the SEIU enthusiastically supports).

UUR also claims Fight for $15 retaliates against staff that support unionizing. As Waging Nonviolence, another liberal news organization, reports:

“According to Nicholas Calderon, a UUR vice president and shop steward, 15 organizers with the Fight for $15 campaign submitted UUR membership cards on April 12. Three days later, Christopher Prado, a Las Vegas-based Fight for $15 organizer and one of the original group to file for representation, was fired.

‘At noon on Tuesday, April 12, I had a meeting with management about my work and our plan for the next 10 weeks,’ Prado said over the phone. ‘At 5 p.m., we submitted our request as Fight for $15 organizers to be absorbed into the UUR contract. And on Friday, April 15, I was retaliated against.’ His managers fired him with one week’s severance pay.

‘The stated reason for his termination was a lack of budget,’ said Calderon, but the UUR believes this was a lie, as ‘the budget was funded for the coming months.’ This led the UUR to file an Unfair Labor Practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board against SEIU on the grounds of retaliation for union activity.”

The SEIU appears to believe that $15 starting wages and a union would seriously hurt its operations. It seems unlikely the union would expose itself to hypocrisy charges otherwise. Fight for $15 skeptics should ask SEIU  to explain this double standard.

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