Down goes the Fight for $15? Just four years after its launch, the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) campaign to force a $15 minimum wage down employers’ throats is apparently going the way of OUR Walmart, the failed effort to unionize Walmart in 2015.
In 2017, the SEIU staged protests in only 30 cities, many of them small in scale. That is down from more than 600 protests last year. As we’ve mentioned before, the SEIU also announced a 10 percent budget cut this year and a 30 percent reduction by 2018.
Now we know what SEIU President Mary Kay Henry is saving up for. Her union is reportedly planning a $100 million campaign to elect pro-union Democrats in the Midwest come 2018. This in it of itself is no surprise, as union bosses routinely curry favor from Democratic politicians, who ease unionization restrictions to boost union member rolls—and, by extension, monthly dues.
But the scale is striking. The SEIU spent about $70 million on all federal political activity in 2012 and again in 2016. Even the Fight for $15 has cost less than $100 million, to the best of our knowledge.
This is a dramatic shift in strategy for a union supposedly concerned about collective bargaining and helping service employees, which has led some union officials to question the campaign. David Rolf, a Washington-based SEIU vice president, has argued it is “hallucinatory” to believe that “the hundreds of millions of dollars the labor movement spent just on Wisconsin gubernatorial elections between 2010 and 2014 couldn’t have been better used to build new forms of worker power.” He argues that wasted political dollars will do nothing to improve workers’ livelihoods.
There are union members who surely agree with Rolf. Henry has claimed that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative.” Many SEIU members in the Midwest continue to support the Trump administration. It remains to be seen how they’ll respond to SEIU leadership spending big on Democrats.
But the SEIU has now made its bed. The union better hope for major political wins, or face irrelevancy.