Amid Growing Sexual Misconduct Scandal, SEIU Staff Vote to Strike

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, pictured here at Davos in 2018, is facing the threat of a strike amid a growing sexual misconduct strike. (Youtube)

Earlier today, OPIEU Local 2, which represents SEIU’s unionized headquarters staff, announced that 92% of the staff had voted to authroize a strike against the union’s top leadership.

The workers say that they are voting to authorize the strike after a series of abuse by top management.

The strike comes amid a high-profile sexual misconduct scandal that has shaken the union. The union is currently facing a high-profile sexual misconduct lawsuit and it appears that SEIU has responded by in part by clamping down on dissent within its union.

On Monday, Payday Report revealed that SEIU subpoenaed Google to find out the identity of a whistleblowing blogger. Last week, an SEIU staff, Njoke Woods, was fired after going on the record with Payday Report about sexual misconduct and retaliation within SEIU.

Many SEIU union staff activists say that the sexual misconduct scandal that is being uncovered within the union is emblematic of the general level of disrespect that SEIU top managers show for their staff.

“As the most progressive labor union in the country, SEIU has a special responsibility to lead by example and work with its union staff to fight back against the right-wing attacks on labor in this country,” said David Hoskins, chief shop steward. “To do this, we must work together to create more good union jobs—not eliminate them. Unfortunately, what SEIU tells the public and its members about union values contrasts sharply to its behavior toward its union workers. At our office, SEIU bosses have engaged in a prolonged union-busting campaign, even while bargaining a collective agreement with its union staff.”

Over the past five years, the union’s two staff unions, OPIEU Local 2 and the Union of Union Representative say that SEIU’s union-busting has seen the unions’ combined strength cut in half from 283 members five years ago to 149 today.

To dilute the strength of the union, SEIU has shifted more of its work to independent contractors and classified 70% of its staffers as managers in order to exempt them from being part of the bargaining unit. According to Department of Labor filing, SEIU spent $21.6 million in 2017 outsourcing work to non-union consultants.

Now, the union is trying to force union staffers employed by SEIU’s pension fund to negotiate contracts separate from other workers at the union; diluting the strength of the staff union even further.

“SEIU spent the past 10 years punishing its staff unions for possible bad decisions by a conservative Supreme Court,” said Christi Fanelli, an OPIEU Local 2 member working at SEIU Headquarters. “We are now reaching a crisis point where all the money is being spent on expensive people offering opinions, and very few people are left to do the work. Local 2 has had enough of this cycle of irresponsibility. Building a sustainable organization means developing institutional knowledge and investing in the people who are committed to the labor movement.”

SEIU disputed the idea that they did not respect their staff and pledged to work with the union.

“Everyone at SEIU values the work performed by our staff to improve the lives of SEIU members. 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,” said SEIU spokesperson Sara Lonardo.

Payday Report will continue to investigate sexual assault and misconduct within the labor movement. Anyone who wishes to speak out, either on-the-record or confidentially, may contact us at [email protected] or (412) 613-8423.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]

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