Service Employees International Union, the nation’s second-largest labor union behind the National Education Association, will cut its budget by 30%, according to a December 14 internal union memo first reported by Bloomberg on December 27. A 10% cut will take place immediately; the cuts will reach 30% by the end of 2017.
In the memo to all staff, SEIU President, Mary Kay Henry, wrote that the cuts are motivated by the union’s fear that “[b]ecause 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….” The union endorsed Hillary Clinton and, according to the Washington Post, donated $1 million to Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC backing Clinton, and spent tens of millions on an independent field effort to turn out voters in battleground states.
Unions face challenges on several fronts under a Republican Congress and Presidency. A President Trump is expected to fill the two vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board with business-oriented members, creating a 3-2 business-centric majority that likely will reverse several labor-friendly decisions issued by the NLRB during the past eight years. In addition, President-elect Trump is expected to fill the one U.S. Supreme Court vacancy with a conservative justice, creating an expected 5-4 majority to invalidate state laws requiring government employees to pay union fees. (In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that was before the Supreme Court earlier this year, the Court was expected to strike down such a law. However, Justice Scalia’s death instead resulted in a four to four vote, leaving the lower court ruling refusing to invalidate the law intact. Several similar cases challenging such laws are pending in lower federal courts. The SEIU represents thousands of government employees who would be affected by a decision invalidating these laws.) The possibility also exists for the passage of a federal right-to-work law invalidating requirements in collective bargaining agreements that employees pay union dues or equivalent agency fees.
It is unlikely the budget cuts will cause the SEIU to abandon its “Fight for $15” campaign. According to Bloomberg, “[a]sked last year whether, if labor lost the Friedrichs case, she would redirect funds away from the Fight for $15, the union’s campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, SEIU’s Henry answered, ‘absolutely not.’ She added, ‘You can’t go smaller in this moment. You have to go bigger.’”