Fight For 15 Architect Suspended by Service Employees Union

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By Josh Eidelson

The Service Employees International Union has suspended a key creator of its “Fight For 15.”

In a Oct. 16 e-mail obtained by Bloomberg News, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry informed colleagues that she was suspending Executive Vice President Scott Courtney, “from all of his duties as an officer of the International Union,” effective immediately. “During this time I will be handling all duties previously assigned to him with my officer team.”

Henry’s e-mail did not reveal the reason for the suspension. Courtney, a Henry ally, was an architect of her signature initiative, the “Fight For 15,” as well as a predecessor effort called the Fight For a Fair Economy and a more recent campaign to transform the politics of the Midwest. The Fight For 15, a blend of high-profile strikes and legal, media, and political pressure on low-wage employers, has so far fallen short in its efforts to unionize the fast food industry but succeeded in forcing a $15 minimum wage into the mainstream of Democratic politics, and onto the books in states and cities around the country.

“If you think about what the No. 1 job of an elected official ought to be, it’s raising the standard of living of citizens they’re elected to represent,” Courtney told the New York Times in August. “But if you look at what has been happening in battle ground states in the Midwest, it’s just the opposite.”

SEIU, the second-largest U.S. union and arguably the most politically significant one, represents nearly 2 million workers in building services, healthcare, and government. Many of those workers are likely to get the chance next year to stop funding the union, if the Supreme Court rules as expected in a First Amendment case that could outlaw mandatory fees for the entire public sector.

Donald Trump’s surprise victory last year revived the threat the justices would make government employment all “right-to-work.” Henry responded by informing staff that the international union would plan for a thirty percent reduction in its budget by the end of 2017, raising questions about which programs SEIU would prioritize with its limited funds.

SEIU spokeswoman Sahar Wali confirmed the suspension. “SEIU takes all questions related to conduct of elected officers very seriously,” she told Bloomberg News in an e-mail. “This decision was made as part of an on-going inquiry that was called for by President Henry. As this inquiry is ongoing, no conclusions have been reached as yet and we continue to gather information.”

Reached via Twitter late Oct. 16, Courtney said he was on his honeymoon and “in no position to respond at this time.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission

To contact the reporter on this story: Josh Eidelson in Washington at jeidelson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer (Bloomberg BNA) at copfer@bna.com; Wes Kosova (Bloomberg) at wkasova@bloomberg.net

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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