In March, as the Service Employees International Union put its full support behind Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the “Fight for $15” minimum wage, president Mary Kay Henry said “you can’t go smaller in this moment.
“You have to go bigger,” she said.
Now that America has elected Republicans to control all branches of the federal government, and many state governments, Henry is rethinking the union’s strategy.
The big labor boss spelled out what the current situation means for a union that’s almost exclusively backed Democrats for decades in a memo sent out to SEIU’s roughly 2 million members earlier this month.
The bottom line: SEIU is slashing its budget by 30 percent, including a 10 percent reduction to start 2017, Bloomberg reports.
“Because the far right will control all three branches of the federal government, we will face serious threats to the ability of working people to join together in unions,” Henry wrote in the Dec. 14 memo. “These threats require us to make tough decisions that allow us to resist these attacks and to fight forward despite dramatically reduced resources.”
The plan, according to the memo, is to “focus our resources and energy on fights that position us to retake power in 2018, 2020, and beyond,” and to “take on forthcoming attacks, absorb the short-term losses and strengthen ourselves to win big in the future,” according to the news site.
The notice comes as Donald Trump prepares to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on Jan. 20, when Republicans will undoubtedly begin to implement policies that put workers ahead of union special interests.
In February, Trump pointed to how unions like SEIU and others often force all employees to pay into their coffers and championed right-to-work laws that give employees a choice about supporting a union.
“It is better for the people. You are not paying the big fees to the unions,” Trump told the South Carolina Radio Network. “The unions get big fees. A lot of people don’t realize they have to pay a lot of fees. …
“I like (right-to-work) because it gives great flexibility to the people,” he said. “It gives great flexibility to the companies.”
Right-to-work laws, of course, dramatically reduce union dues revenue by making membership optional, rather than mandatory, as evidenced most recently in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.
More than 75,000 Wisconsin workers ditched their unions in the first year after Republican lawmakers approved right-to-work legislation in the spring of 2015.
“In 2015, 8.3% of Wisconsin workers, or 223,000 in all, were members of unions,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “That was down sharply from the 306,000 people, or 11.7% of the state’s workforce, who belonged to unions in 2014.”
In Michigan, where right-to-work took effect in 2013, it was a similar scenario.
Big Labor leaders now appear to be bracing for the possibility of a national policy change, either through the Trump administration and Congress they’ve aligned against, or a Supreme Court that will undoubtedly tilt to the right in the near future.
According to Bloomberg:
With Republican dominance in Washington, the threats to SEIU will get more grave: Everything from slashing health-care spending to passing a federal law extending “Right to Work” to all private-sector employees could be on the table. One of the most widely expected scenarios is that a Trump appointee will provide the decisive fifth vote on the Supreme Court’s labor cases. The court already ruled in 2014 that making government-funded home health aides pay union fees violated the First Amendment, and a future case could apply the same logic to all government employees, effectively making the whole public sector “Right to Work.” SEIU was bracing for such a ruling earlier this year, in a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, but got an unexpected reprieve when Justice Antonin Scalia’s death left the court tied, four to four. With several similar cases brought by union opponents already making their way through lower courts, it may not last for long.