Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
February 14, 2018
After several months of relative inactivity, the union front group Fight for $15 reemerged on February 12 with protests in a handful of cities across the country. The group last launched protests over Labor Day weekend in September 2017, and it announced plans to organize this latest round on the 50th anniversary of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tenn.
As this blog has reported previously, the Fight for $15 is a so-called worker center that has been pushing for an inflated minimum wage of $15 per hour for over five years now. The group has largely been organized and paid for by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has poured millions into the project, whose real aim all along has been to recruit new members, starting with the fast food industry.
Yet, despite all of the SEIU’s efforts—and dues money—the Fight for $15 has not yielded the intended result, while attendance at its ‘nationwide’ protests has had a tendency to be rather underwhelming. That fact appeared to bring the SEIU to a crossroads in late 2016, when the union announced that it would implement a 30 percent budget cut by the end of 2017.
The SEIU’s budget cut impacted the Fight for $15, which scaled back operations, while the departure of several top Fight for $15 executives in the fall of 2017 ultimately called into question the organization’s viability altogether.
With the Fight for $15’s most recent round of protests, it would seem that the SEIU has little intention of abandoning that effort, any budgetary or personnel challenges it has had notwithstanding. It also illustrates the organization’s new tack, which is to hang its hat on broader social movements.
The Fight for $15 also held rallies in other cities, and reportedly its “actions will culminate in a six-week period of civil disobedience and protest in a number of states this year” as well as the resurrection of the 1960s-era Poor People Campaign slogan.
All of that may lead to a further expansion of locally-mandated minimum wage increases, which became a byproduct of the SEIU’s effort to increase wages at the businesses it had initially targeted. That trend of local ordinances has grown since the Fight for $15 began, but whether or not the campaign leads to more members for—or serious funding from— the SEIU is a different question.