Aug 18, 2016 - 2:15pm

Does SEIU Outsourcing Deny Workers’ Union Rights?

Executive Director, Labor Policy


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.

Last year, this blog recounted the shameless hypocrisy of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor’s attempt get an exemption from a minimum wage law for which it had strenuously advocated.  Now it appears that the good-for-thee-but-not-for-me philosophy is also alive and well at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—the union that has spent tens of millions of dollars orchestrating the Fight for $15 campaign over the last several years.  

Last weekend, Fight for $15 organized what it called its first-ever “convention” in Richmond, Va.  The gathering reportedly included a public protest with plenty of the typical street theater that has characterized the group’s events, and participants renewed their demands for a $15 per hour minimum wage as well as union representation.

However, things did not exactly go according to script in the convention hall, where SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was scheduled to deliver a keynote address to roughly 1,000 attendees on Friday night.  As Ms. Henry prepared to speak, about 100 of the Fight for $15 organizers working on behalf of the SEIU donned stickers and tee shirts and proceeded toward the stage to deliver a letter requesting a minimum wage of $15 and union representation.

These demands might strike some as confusing.  Why would SEIU organizers campaigning for a $15 an hour wage need to make such a request to the head of the union for which they presumably work?  Well, as it turns out, some of the the SEIU’s Fight for $15 organizers say they earn only $9.00 per hour, and surprisingly, they have no union representation.  According to the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), which would like to represent these organizers, the SEIU is denying them that right by claiming that it is not their employer.

This is a startling revelation.  It seems that the SEIU, which was the leading force behind the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) efforts to rewrite the joint employer standard, may have a sticky joint employer situation of its own. 

Rather than pay Fight for $15 organizers directly, which would make the union their actual employer, the SEIU set up several worker center groups and “organizing committees” to which it provides millions of dollars annually.  Those groups, in turn, appear to have used that money to procure “consulting services” and “payroll services” from other third parties. 

The UUR alleges that the SEIU is using these third parties to act as the organizers’ employer of record, despite the fact that the union exercises substantial control over Fight for $15’s activities.  This, of course, is exactly what the SEIU has accused employers of doing and is the basis of the NLRB’s greatly expanded joint employer standard. 

For its part, the UUR either has or plans to pursue unfair labor practice charges against the SEIU.  Given the NLRB’s new approach to joint employment issues, it will be interesting indeed to see how the SEIU fares if and when the Board investigates its hypocrisy.  

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean P. Redmond
Executive Director, Labor Policy

Sean P. Redmond is Executive Director, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.