SEIU Finances and the Fight for $15 | U.S. Chamber of Commerce

SEIU Finances and the Fight for $15

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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.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) recently submitted to the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) its annual financial report for 2016.  The report, known as the LM-2, is required by law and provides detailed information about the union’s receipts and expenses, as well as payments to individual officers and employees.
 
The SEIU’s latest LM-2 shows that the union had total receipts around $304 million in 2016, which is the lowest amount since 2007—in fact, in nominal terms it’s a drop of more than $100 million from 2012.  On the spending side, the SEIU disbursed approximately $314 million, also a drop of more than $100 million since 2012.  
 
While spending may have dipped overall, the union continued to shell out large sums for its Fight for $15 campaign.  In 2016, $14 million was devoted to the cause, bringing the total since the campaign was launched to nearly $70 million (this is a very conservative estimate, the actual total is likely to be significantly higher).  
 
The question for dues-paying SEIU members is just what the union is getting for this largesse.  Certainly Fight for $15 has achieved a few policy successes in terms of raising the minimum wage in some states and localities.  But in its central purpose—the unionization of the fast food industry—the campaign has led to no new union members.  In fact, SEIU membership has gone down since Fight for $15 started.  Still, the SEIU had hopes that policies pushed by a friendly administration, namely forcing franchisors into joint employment relationships with franchisees, would provide fuel for the campaign.  The election of Donald Trump is likely to bring an end to that prospect once new National Labor Relations Board members are installed and reexamine the previous Board’s Browning-Ferris decision. 
 
Another source of anxiety for the Fight for $15 effort is that in the wake of the November elections, the SEIU announced a 30 percent ($90 million) budget cut.  There has been no announcement about what this means for the significant spending the campaign has received so far, but given that spending of $70 million has netted zero new members, it is likely that downsizing is in store.  
 
Fight for $15 will certainly hitch its banners to other gatherings, for example the May 1 immigration protests, or general demonstrations against the administration.  But can anything more than that be sustained?  Will we see more national “days of action?”   With the SEIU feeling more frugal, these are questions that must be making Fight for $15 organizers nervous.