Architect of Fight for $15 Campaign Suspended | U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Architect of Fight for $15 Campaign Suspended

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Pro-union signs lay in the street before the start of a "Fight for $15" rally in New York.
Pro-union signs lay in the street before the start of a "Fight for $15" rally in New York. Photo credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg.

As readers of this blog are well aware, the Fight for $15 campaign has created quite a few headlines over the past five years.  Which made one of this morning’s headlines very interesting indeed.  According to Bloomberg BNA’s “Daily Labor Report,” (subscription required) SEIU President Mary Kay Henry announced that she has suspended SEIU Executive Vice President Scott Courtney “from all of his duties as an officer of the international Union.” 

Although the SEIU’s Kendall Fells has been the face of Fight for $15, Courtney was known as the architect behind it all.  So the question is, just what does this suspension mean for the campaign?

It wouldn’t be surprising if SEIU’s leadership were dissatisfied with the campaign’s performance.  After all, while Fight for $15 has achieved some policy successes, convincing a number of cities and even a few states to institute a $15 an hour minimum wage, it has failed utterly in its main objective of unionizing the fast food industry.  In fact, the SEIU has spent at least $72 million on the campaign according to reports filed with the Department of Labor and has yet to file a single organizing petition.

Moreover, a key piece of the effort is now in jeopardy.  To make it easier to unionize fast food, the SEIU advocated for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to expand the definition of joint employer, which the agency did in the 2015 Browning Ferris decision.  That decision could have allowed the SEIU to unionize a company like McDonald’s in one fell swoop rather than having to go franchise by franchise across the country.  This was critical if Fight for $15 was to succeed. 

However, the newly-constituted NLRB, which now has a 3-2 Republican majority, may overturn Browning Ferris.  In addition, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently approved the Save Local Business Act, which would restore the clear separation between franchisors and franchisees that the National Labor Relations Act had long recognized. 

On top of it all, the SEIU announced budget cuts of approximately $90 million after the 2016 election.  It was anticipated that this would impact Fight for $15’s activities and that seems to have been the case.  So far in 2017 there have been just two, somewhat disappointing, national “days of action.”

Of course, there may be any number of causes for Henry’s decision.  Regardless of the rationale, today’s headline is yet more discouraging news for Fight for $15.