SEIU Harassment Scandal Causes Shakeup In Leadership
Several leaders in the Fight for $15 effort led by SEIU were removed from their positions after allegations of harassment were brought forth by female staffers. According to Labor Pains and Buzzfeed, Executive Vice President Scott Courtney, who had led the union’s Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign, recently resigned from his post. The union had to fire the leader of its Fight for $15 campaign in Illinois, Caleb Jennings, as part of an investigation into misconduct and abusive behavior. Jennings allegedly grew violent toward his employees, and even reportedly shoved a female subordinate against a door frame. The SEIU also placed Mark Raleigh, the Detroit campaign’s top official, on administrative leave for similar reasons.
It’s not just an SEIU problem. Some union leaders say sexual harassment is a widespread problem within organized labor, just as it is in the rest of the workforce.
“Every woman that I know, whether they’re in management or punch the clock, has faced it,” including those working for unions, said Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO and former leader of the organization’s national LGBT group. “If it is a co-worker or a union brother or a union sister, it’s hard. You somehow feel the betrayal of trust.”
It’s been ten months since Mickey Kasparian, President of United Foodservice and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135 was named in a complaint charging him with gender discrimination and retaliation by former union employee Sandy Naranjo.
A few days later, retired union employee Isabel Vasquez filed a complaint alleging approximately 13 years of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Anabel Arauz, another union employee, went through several months of harassment and was eventually fired for speaking out in support of Vasquez.
Some unions are talking about harassment and how they can help employees who face these problems in the workplace when their employers won’t. “There is stuff going on in restaurants that people are afraid to talk about” regarding employers, managers, and co-workers, says Nicole Battle, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild. “Some women are concerned that if they come forward and speak out, they will be blacklisted and they won’t get a job.” Restaurant worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United has reported that over 30 percent of sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC come from the restaurant industry.
It’s clear that one pillar of your positive employee relations program has got to be a robust strategy for preventing and correcting any form of harassment in the workplace.
The fight against the Fight for $15 and similar local based ordinance legislation continues, and appears to be winning, at least to a report published by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. According to EPI, the report looks at the rising use of preemption by state legislatures to undercut local labor standards. It provides an overview of five key areas of labor and employment policy affected by preemption—including minimum wage, paid leave, fair work scheduling, prevailing wage, and project labor agreements—and details the extent and impact of such preemption practices throughout the United States.
It does not examine the compliance burdens such legislation can place on businesses operating in more than one location in a state, or on a national scale.
Last Friday, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2022. All of this comes on the heels of negative reports from San Francisco and Seattle
Below is an excerpt from a State Journal Register op-ed from earlier this month by Jordan Bruneau, senior research analyst at EPI. In the op-ed he discusses the dangers of a $15 minimum wage hike in Illinois based upon lessons learned from Seattle’s minimum wage hike.
That’s the conclusion of a major new University of Washington minimum wage study, conducted by a research team funded by the City of Seattle. And it couldn’t come at a worse time for Illinois’ minimum proponents who are hoping Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign the $15 legislation currently on his desk.
The study, conducted by a diverse group of experienced economists, found that Seattle’s employees earning less than $19 an hour — roughly Illinois’ median wage — lost $125 per month on average. In other words, the boost in hourly pay was offset by a loss in work opportunities, after the city’s then-$13 minimum wage forced employers to reduce hours worked by 9 percent.
The study also found the wage hike reduced the number of these jobs by 7 percent. This job loss conclusion is in line with the best economic research on the topic, including a 2014 review by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office which found a $10.10 federal minimum wage would cost 500,000 jobs. “Basically, what we’re doing is we’re removing the bottom rung of the (career) ladder,” said study author Jacob Vigdor.
This minimum wage study stands out from its peers because its economists had access to private payroll data on all affected employees in the city. This breadth of data provides a far more accurate result than competing studies that use restaurant employees as a minimum wage proxy. David Autor, one of the nation’s leading labor economists, called the study “very credible” with the “statistical power that it can change minds.”
That doesn’t mean the study hasn’t been controversial — among advocates for $15, anyway. Upon learning about its forthcoming results, Seattle’s Mayor and $15 champion Ed Murray requested a report from a team of UC Berkeley researchers. This attempt to try to dull the UW study’s impact backfired as the mayor’s office has come under intense criticism for study shopping and politicizing economics.
Fifteen states passed bills to pre-empt labor legislation between January 2016 and July 2017, according to a report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio enacted legislation to pre-empt minimum wage hikes. The report noted that Missouri’s pre-emption law, which takes effect today, will stop St. Louis from enacting 2015 legislation that raised the city’s minimum wage to $11 by 2018.
Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina enacted legislation to pre-empt paid leave bills.
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Tennessee enacted legislation to pre-empt predictable scheduling legislation.
Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin enacted legislation to pre-empt laws that require the use of project labor agreements and the payment of prevailing wage to workers on public construction projects
Wages may be going up in Minneapolis.
Here is an interesting twist in the fight for $15 developing in Minneapolis. Based on the website link, it looks as if the issue has developed beyond a worker center approach to a liberal/progressive cause which includes interested citizens, restaurant owners and employees.
More on the effort underway in Minneapolis from this story in City Pages:
Though the Lowbrow has been in business for six and a half years, and things are going very well for the Nicollet Avenue “burgers, beer, and brunch” restaurant, owner Heather Bray says she is “terrified.”
At issue is the city of Minneapolis’ plan for phasing in a $15 minimum wage for all workers. Some restaurant owners and servers are campaigning for a tip credit, whereby tips would count toward the $15 hourly wage. Otherwise, they say, owners will phase out tipping altogether and raise menu prices to come up with the money to cover the new minimum wage.
So a coalition of restaurateurs and servers has hired a professional lobbyist to help create a campaign called “Pathway to $15.” The coalition argues that restaurants and bars compensate their employees in a unique way, and that way should be considered as the city forges ahead with the wage increase. So far, Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Minneapolis City Council have indicated that a tip credit will probably not be considered. Hodges has even said that a tip credit is detrimental to women, who make up a majority of service industry staff in restaurants nationwide.
Here are the goals of the group taken from the Pathway to $15 website:
We share the belief that employees should be properly compensated for their hard work in this changing economy to support their families. As members of the Minneapolis community, we want the city’s businesses – and the employees who depend on them – to thrive. An increase in the minimum wage will empower all segments of the population in Minneapolis – especially women and people of color.
Restaurant work is a service-driven profession. The tips restaurant workers receive are both a wage and reward. While management is able to track tips (which mostly happen now via credit card) for tax purposes, tips go directly to the restaurant employee without management interference. Restaurant workers benefit from both an hourly wage and tips. In full service restaurants, servers, bartenders, and delivery drivers are often the highest paid employees based on the combination of tips and wages. Because of this pay structure, many restaurant employees are already making $15 an hour or more.
Raising the standard to $15 without recognizing employees’ total taxable income would have the unintended consequence of making it harder and more costly for bars and restaurants to hire more employees. Many restaurant and bar staff are those most in need of access to good, local jobs. Forcing neighborhood restaurants and bars to raise the minimum wage without recognizing tips will end up hurting those it is intended to help, either through reduced working hours or because of layoffs.
According to CUE resources in Minnesota, the business community is following this initiative closely. Tipped employees in better restaurants are joining the opposition to the proposed wage. It is possible that there may be state preemption of these kinds of local wage ordinances passed in Minnesota. all this, possibly, depending on the outcome of a very crazy legislative session ending Monday night.
In many ways, this feels reminiscent of the Seattle fight for $15 movement, and is definitely a local issue worth keeping an eye on.