The Organizers Of Fight For $15 Now Must Fight For Their Own Union

The SEIU is fighting for a union for fast-food workers–but seems less excited about its own organizers having one.

The Organizers Of Fight For $15 Now Must Fight For Their Own Union
Photos: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue

From California to New York, the Fight for $15 movement has been successful beyond anyone’s imagination at convincing lawmakers that people deserve a living wage.


But now some of its organizers have had to turn their attention inward, according to Waging Nonviolence. In a meta commentary on the barriers to workplace rights in this country, they are being forced to organize for the right to their own union and better treatment by their employer.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been an important organization backing Fight for $15, the grassroots movement to organize service-sector workers making poverty-level minimum wages across the country. But some of its organizers, researchers, and staff working on the campaign have had trouble getting their own concerns heard.

The Union of Union Representatives says it’s representing about 100 organizers to SEIU. A shop steward there told Waging Nonviolence that many of organizers are technically on the payroll of SEIU subsidiaries, which allows them to use non-union organizers for grassroots efforts like Fight for $15. One organizer on the Fight for $15 campaign who tried to join the Union of Union Representatives says he was fired shortly after and alleges it was in retaliation for his actions.

The article points out that unions have been under financial pressure over the last few decades as membership has dwindled. As Fast Company has covered, SEIU has been trying to get creative and reach beyond its traditional base to recruit new union members in non-traditional sectors. This includes fast-food workers making minimum wage, as in the Fight for $15, and its outreach to workers in the gig economy. But relying on non-union organizers to cut costs as it works to expand workplace organizing to new kinds of employees seems short-sighted.

SEIU hasn’t responded to a request for comment at publication time, and we will update this story if they do.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.