Monday, May 20

The president of the powerful service workers union will resign

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, one of the nation’s largest and most politically powerful unions, announced Tuesday that she was resigning after 14 years in her position.

Ms. Henry was the first woman elected to lead the union, which represents nearly two million workers including janitors and home health aides in both the public and private sectors.

Under his leadership, he launched a major initiative known as Fight for $15, which sought to organize fast food workers and push for a $15 minimum wage. Winning over skeptics in the ranks, Henry argued that the union could make gains through a broad-based campaign that targeted the industry as a whole rather than individual employers.

Labor experts and industry officials cite the campaign as a major force behind significant minimum wage increases in states including California and New York and cities such as Seattle and Chicago. He also sponsored a recent California law creating a board to set a minimum wage in the fast food industry, which will become $20 an hour in April, and to propose new health and safety standards.

But the Fight for $15 campaign did not unionize workers on a large scale and did not allow them to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with their employers.

Henry’s tenure coincided with a series of legislative and legal challenges to organized labor, including state laws that revoke collective bargaining rights and allow workers to opt out of once-mandatory union dues, as well as a landmark Supreme Court ruling that allows public employees to do the same.

Under Henry’s control, union membership has remained virtually unchanged, while the overall percentage of Americans represented by unions has declined by about 15 percent. But the union lost the mandatory dues of more than 200,000 non-members, causing a significant loss of revenue.

The union will select Ms. Henry’s successor through a vote of delegates at its quadrennial convention in May.

“I’m ready to pass the baton,” Ms. Henry, 66, said in an interview. “SEIU is filled with powerful, dynamic, multiracial leaders of the next generation, ready to seize this moment of workers’ uprising.”

The union’s second-ranking official, secretary-treasurer April Verrett, said in an interview that she planned to run for the top job.

A longtime organizer, Ms. Henry was executive vice president when the union’s board chose her to fill out the presidential term of Andy Stern, who resigned in 2010. She won the first of three full four-year terms in 2012.

Henry’s approach has drawn criticism that the union is too top-down in its efforts.

Organizer and scholar Jane McAlevey has criticized the Fight for $15 for being too focused on what she calls “mobilization” – that is, relying heavily on a staff of professionals, consultants and activists to generate attention and shape public opinion – rather than building a broad, worker-led organization.

As the SEIU became more involved in a union drive launched by a franchisee, Workers United, at Starbucks in 2021, some Starbucks workers said decision-making and communications became more centralized.

In the interview, Ms. Henry rejected arguments that the union’s campaigns did not prominently involve workers, but said it was important to pair grassroots organizing with other strategies that put pressure on employers. Ms. Henry said the union had sought to invest in Starbucks’ campaign, as it is doing in an effort to replace some of the company’s directors, to make it more comprehensive.

The union has also been a force in politics and policy debates. Ms. Henry took the top job shortly after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which the union had rallied to help pass. She pushed the union to defend the health care legislation against Republican attempts to repeal it.

The union’s political gambles under Ms. Henry’s leadership didn’t always work, such as its endorsement of Hillary Clinton early in the 2016 presidential campaign cycle. Many members later warmed to her Democratic primary rival, Bernie Sanders .

In 2020, the union took a different tack, outlining a policy agenda that it urged candidates to embrace, which included making it easier for workers to bargain at the industry level and making big investments in home care and child care, including increased pay for workers. healthcare workers. Joseph R. Biden Jr. incorporated many of the union’s ideas into his domestic policy platform on his way to the presidency.

“It’s an example of us taking stock and evaluating leadership decisions, drawing lessons and thinking about what we want to do differently next time,” Ms. Henry said of the change in approach.

However, major home care and child care measures proposed by Biden died in the Senate.

Ms Henry said the union was investing heavily in this year’s general election.

“We want to finish the job,” he said. “We have Senate targets, House targets, governors, state legislators, city councils – to get every major benefit we can get.”