In 2012 when the first “fast food strike” occurred, the SEIU undersold its involvement in the protests as merely support for workers. But, with political victories on the books in labor-friendly jurisdictions like New York and California, the union is now claiming full ownership and making full-throated public statements that union representation is, and has been, their end goal all along.
While watchdog organizations have always maintained the SEIU was financing and coordinating worker center front groups in effort to build grassroots capacity toward unionization, the SEIU public relations team kept most of the media’s focus and the public’s attention on the “Fight for $15” narrative. To the extent that coverage of the campaign focused on unionization, it typically kept to the message of fighting for “union rights.” It has not been cheap. Latest figures show that the SEIU burn rate remains constant around $30 million a year on the campaign, pushing the total somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 million.
Despite the cleverly framed narrative over the past few years. For those who closely follow labor issues, the revelation that the campaign has always been an elaborate organizing drive isn’t news. The Fight for $15 game plan, initially labelled as the Fight for a Fair Economy, leaked in 2011 and even forecasting that it would cost “tens of millions” of dollars. The strategy was unveiled recently to Bloomberg News, “We made a decision not to make it an SEIU thing,” avoiding branding the campaign with SEIU’s signature violet logo, says Neal Bisno, who heads SEIU’s health-care-workers union in Pennsylvania. “We literally took off our purple T-shirts.”
Outside a small circle of labor aficionados, the general public, employees and customers have been misled by SEIU’s shell game which has consisted of funding a network of innocuous sounding groups to carry out its organizing. Groups like Jobs with Justice and Communities for Change, when convenient, have portrayed the campaign as an effort build on winning minimum wage increases rather than what amounts to a stealth union organizing drive. But, the SEIU has begun priming the press and public for the next phase, union representation.
Last week, a number of SEIU officials jumpstarted the process: Scott Courtney, national organizing director for the SEIU, told ABC News that he believed “McDonald’s might consider recognition of a workers organization in the next couple of years.” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry echoed Courtney in a Bloomberg News report, “SEIU leaders also believe pressure on fast-food corporations will eventually yield a deal that covers millions of workers, improves their lives, and includes a funding mechanism for the campaign to continue — even if the result doesn’t look like a traditional union. ‘We bargain in the way we know how,” Henry says. “We’re also taking risks in building a movement that’s going to birth the next form of worker power.'”
Now that the SEIU is publicly pivoting toward organizing workers in an effort to represent them, bargain on their behalf and, of course, collect dues, it’s past time that Congress forces DOL regulators to mandate that the SEIU’s network of front groups put back on their purple t-shirts and file as labor organizations. 501c3 or c4 organizations funded by the SEIU, ostensibly for electoral politics, shouldn’t be allowed to build their databases for the SEIU’s union organizing efforts. While the SEIU is certain of its intentions, workers and the public will continue to be deceived until the SEIU is forced to be earnest in its approach.
Ryan Williams is an adviser to Worker Center Watch, an organization dedicated to exposing corruption. He formerly served as a spokesman for Govs. Mitt Romney and John Sununu.