Are Unions Exploiting Their Employees?
Workers have authorized strikes against both SEIU and AFL-CIO.
By The Editorial Board
March 18, 2019 7:20 p.m. ET
One of America’s largest unions is facing its own labor pains. SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, represents nearly two million workers. It’s the muscle behind the “Fight for $15” campaign to raise the minimum wage. Yet staff at SEIU’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., could soon be going on strike.
Employees at SEIU are organized by two unions: the Union of Union Representatives and the Office and Professional Employees International Union. Last week, after a breakdown in talks with the bosses, OPEIU’s Local 2 announced that workers had authorized a strike, with 92% voting in favor. Mediation is in progress.
The union accuses the other union of persistent union-busting. “Over the last five years,” Local 2 says on its website, “union jobs at SEIU and its pension fund have been cut in half: from 283 to 149.” It blames this trend on “managerial bloat” and outside contracting: “SEIU spent $21.6 million outsourcing work to non-union consultants in 2017, much of which should have been done by union workers.”
Tenure protections are also at stake. “They want to make unionized workers less secure and give them less job security,” David Hoskins, an SEIU researcher and OPEIU organizer, told the Huffington Post. Today, he said, if SEIU wants to get rid of a position held by a staffer with five years of tenure, it must offer him or her a new job. Management wants to end that provision, though SEIU says the change would apply only to new hires.
“SEIU is proud of the contract offer it made to staff represented by Local 2,” a spokeswoman said Monday, “which includes an 8% raise, improved health benefits, and preservation of the job guarantee for all current staff. SEIU has been strongly committed to reaching a negotiated settlement that allows our union to meet the daunting challenges that SEIU members are up against and provides a workplace that is aligned with our values.”
This is hardly organized labor’s first dose of its own medicine. In 2015 field workers on the “Fight for $15” complained that they weren’t making $15 an hour—and that they couldn’t unionize, since SEIU didn’t claim them as employees. An organizer with the Union of Union Representatives lamented then that “SEIU has been fostering anti-union sentiment for months.”
Meanwhile, OPEIU’s Local 2 is in heated negotiations on behalf of the accountants, janitors and so forth that it represents at AFL-CIO. Those employees authorized a strike last October, while making formal complaints of unfair treatment to the National Labor Relations Board.
Local 2 agreed not to strike in early November, its says, “in order not to compromise AFL-CIO’s campaign to elect pro-labor candidates.” But the contract dispute grinds on. In a January letter, 51 workers complained that “AFL-CIO is seeking the right to unilaterally impose up to 24 furlough days over a two-year period.”
With all this heavy bargaining, one question is whether OPEIU’s and UUR’s negotiators are being treated fairly for their hard work. Is there a union for the Union of Union Representatives’ representatives?
Appeared in the March 19, 2019, print edition of the WSJ.
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OPEIU Local 2 is a labor union supporting over 8,000 professional workers in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We represent staff members across a number of sectors, including healthcare, non-profit, and more.