News & Commentary

February 8, 2024

Divya Nimmagadda

Divya Nimmagadda is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s labor news: SEIU president announces plans to step down and judges order Starbucks to reinstate unlawfully-dismissed, pro-union employees.

Mary Kay Henry has been president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for fourteen years and was the first women elected to the position. The SEIU has a membership of almost two million workers across the healthcare, public sector and property services industries. Her leadership was instrumental in the “Fight for $15” campaign which sought to organize fast-food workers and advocate towards an industry-wide $15 minimum wage.  This initiative has been credited with enacting wage changes in major cities, including Chicago and New York, and the discussion in some states, like California, has progressed beyond the original ideal to a $20 minimum

Related to this theme of industry-centric changes, in 2019, Henry introduced the “Unions for All” campaign. This vision elevated the concept of sectoral organizing where labor activism, instead of organizing employer-by-employer, is focused on creating unions across industries, and sometimes across geographies. This approach, common in many European countries, is beginning to gain traction in the U.S. with the creation of some state-wide councils to set sector-wide health, safety and/or wage standards in the fast-food and healthcare industries. Many political candidates, including Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttegieg, incorporated aspects of “Unions for All” into their platforms. 

The union will elect Henry’s successor through a delegate vote at the quadrennial convention in May.

An administrative law judge, Robert Ringler, found that Starbucks violated the NLRA by firing ten pro-union employees across several Buffalo locations –  the company outright fired nine employees for their union-related activities and constructively dismissed another by refusing to accommodate her scheduling needs.  This decision has been hailed as a “monumental victory,” by Starbucks Workers United.

Another judge, Mara Louise Anzalone, came to a similar conclusion about like conduct in two Colorado locations, finding that the dismissal of two pro-union employees constituted a violation of Section 8(a)(3) of the NLRA. Both judges ordered that Starbucks reinstate each of the employees, with backpay. These decisions will need to be adopted by the full NLRB, and Starbucks has commented that it intends to seek further legal review

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