SEIU Looks to Begin Midwest Organizing

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By Jaclyn Diaz

The SEIU made it a priority to organize health-care workers in the Midwest, while also investing resources in battleground states for the 2018 midterm elections, Mary Kay Henry, the union’s international president, told Bloomberg BNA recently.

The two efforts go hand-in-hand, the union has said. By mobilizing voters to support pro-union politicians in 2018, the union is hoping newly elected lawmakers will support its legislative goals in cities like Chicago and St. Louis.

Union investments in politics have not been successful, as evidenced by the results of the 2016 election, Akash Chougule, with Americans for Prosperity, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 18. Continued spending on political races will only serve to alienate members, he said.

SEIU’s Organizing Goals

On Labor Day, hospital workers in the Midwest joined forces with fast-food workers in protests centering on a $15 minimum wage. SEIU has been holding numerous Fight for $15 protests since 2012.

Those Labor Day protests were the jumping off point for the union’s voter engagement drive for 2018 elections.

Leading up to November 2018, the union’s members and workers will volunteer 40 hours of their time for voter outreach, Henry said. The goal is to galvanize support for Democratic politicians in the Midwest who will back a $15 minimum wage and worker’s rights.

“Members understand stakes are higher than ever. We need to elect legislators and governors that are pro-worker,” she said.

The Midwest is a target for right-to-work legislation, and there are a number of open gubernatorial, mayoral, and legislative seats for midterm elections in Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, Henry said, naming a few.

Missouri recently enacted a law that bans local governments from establishing a minimum wage higher than the statewide rate. The law blocked a St. Louis ordinance that would have increased the hourly rate from $7.70 to $10. Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio enacted similar laws in the past several years.

Organizing Hospital Workers

This grassroots voter drive will happen concurrently with a push to organize workers in the medical field.

Hospital workers will join Fight for $15’s effort to organize voters, Henry said.

The long-term goal is to put pressure on health-care industry employers to come to the negotiating table in Detroit, Chicago, or Milwaukee, for example, to bargain as one, Henry said.

Those plans echo comments made by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka Aug. 30. He announced the labor federation’s plans to look for ways to organize by industry, rather than by individual units—a largely European model.

A Democratic politician can push that agenda along by putting public pressure on employers to provide good jobs for workers and establishing union-friendly legislation, the SEIU said.

But by putting the union’s money and time behind certain politicians, SEIU may be a turn off for members, Chougule said.

By continuing to donate to certain politicians, unions risk alienating workers who don’t like a candidate the SEIU supports, he said.

In 2016, many unions endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, but many union members voted for President Donald Trump, Chougule said. This reflects a disconnection between union leadership and its members, he said.

Will SEIU Encroach on Other Unions?

SEIU’s drive could conflict with other major health-care unions that organize in that area.

For instance, National Nurses United has about 150,000 members in every state, the union said. The group was founded in 2009, unifying the California Nurses Association, United American Nurses, and Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The union has seen an upsurge in health-care workers seeking representation and other unions are seeing it, David Johnson, an organizer for the National Nurses United, told Bloomberg BNA.

As long as SEIU stays away from registered nurses at these hospitals, there should be no conflict, Johnson said.

“Our organizing work is centered on organizing RNs. Assuming that there isn’t an effort to organize registered nurses, then I don’t anticipate a conflict,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jDiaz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com

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

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