Tuesday, August 16, 2016

SEIU’s Mary Kay Henry to Fight for $15 Staff: “No union for you!”

Remember those 100 “Fight for $15” organizers who requested to join the “Union of Union Representatives” (UUR), a staff union that already represents SEIU’s organizers across the nation?

Four months ago, they formally submitted their request to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

Since then, Henry has rejected their request despite announcing in May that SEIU will spend millions on a new “Fight for $15 Organizing Campaign Center.”

That set the scene for last weekend’s action in Richmond, Virginia, where nearly 100 “Fight for $15” organizers and supporters confronted SEIU President Mary Kay Henry during her speech to SEIU’s first national “Fight for $15” convention.

As Henry spoke to the crowd, the Fight for $15 organizers and their supporters began walking towards the stage to present her with a letter, according to an article published in in Raw Story:
[Jodi Lynn] Fennell [an organizer with the Child Care Fight for $15 campaign in Las Vegas] says, “Nearly 100 organizers and supporters gathered, moving up toward the stage peacefully. Our plan was simply to deliver a letter to Mary Kay Henry because she doesn’t make herself available to speak with us.”
…But they never got to hand the letter to Henry. Inside sources at SEIU say the union was prepared for such an incident, and sprang into action. Fennell says, “Security prevented us from getting to the stage.” Meanwhile, on the speakers’ platform, Henry stepped back and a group of African-Americans and Latino/as who sit on the national organizing committee for Fight for $15 stepped up.
One woman on stage with Henry grabbed the mic. She berated the staff organizers and their supporters below as cameras broadcast the convention…
As Henry stood smiling faintly behind the human wall, the speaker continued…
Barajas-Ames says the UUR organizers stood before Henry for 15 minutes. As the
Mary Kay Henry speaking at the Fight for $15 convention
speakers on stage led the crowd in chants of “$15 and a union,” Barajas-Ames says, “The security guards became hostile and aggressive, physically pushing us back. We stepped back and stood peacefully. Our signs were grabbed and torn up.”
…But that was just the beginning of the troubles for the members of the UUR organizing committee. Shortly afterward, Barajas-Ames and Fennell were personally called by the national director of the Child Care Fight for $15. The two organizers were told they would not be attending the events and protests on Saturday they had been organizing toward for months. Instead, they were to pack their bags as they were being flown out at 6 a.m. back to Las Vegas. Fennell claims the national director also told them, “We will be expecting you to pay for the cost of the hotel.”
… A total of five Fight for $15 organizers who support UUR were shipped home for trying to bring attention to their cause.
Fennell says, “This represents the exact same type of retaliation that corporations do to low-wage workers.”

So how does Mary Kay Henry justify her refusal to allow the organizers to unionize?

According to an article authored by David Moberg in In These Times:
At first, Calderon says, SEIU maintained their employer was the payroll processing firm that handles their paychecks. Now, he says, the international insists they’re employed by the individual organizing committees that direct each city’s Fight for $15 campaign.
According to Calderon, nearly 99 percent of funding for Fight for $15 organizers, as well as vehicles and supplies, comes from SEIU.

Raw Story reports that “Fight for $15” organizers in Las Vegas are paid by an SEIU subcontractor called the “Ardleigh Group.” It describes the company this way:
One former employee calls it a “faceless, shadowy” corporation that acts as a pass-through to hide employer responsibility. SEIU documents appear to show it using paper outfits to funnel money to the Ardleigh Group, which then pays workers on SEIU projects who say they are being denied their legal union rights.

"Fight for $15" organizers
The Ardleigh Group describes itself as a “political consulting and classic door-to-door campaigning” firm that’s been hired by a variety of candidates and organizations across the nation. Its name appears in SEIU's online job announcements for “Fight for $15” organizer positions.

Interestingly, some of these job announcements were posted by SEIU’s Recruitment Director Pamela Kieffer, the wife of SEIU-UHW’s Dave Kieffer.

Headquartered in Washington DC, the Ardleigh Group is headed by Bernard “Blair” Talmadge and Bryan L. Stewart

Talmadge, who grew up in Philadelphia, was an unsuccessful candidate for the Philadelphia City Commissioners in 2011. From 1997-2000, he served as a “Deputy Commissioner” to his brother, City Commissioner Alex Talmadge, Jr. 

According to Blair Talmadge, he has managed campaigns for multiple candidates for state and federal offices.

FYI, The London Guardian also covered last weekend’s action in Richmond (“Fight for $15 organizers demand employee status from SEIU,” August 12, 2016).