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Union organizing machine targets St. Louis, Kansas City

By   /   June 26, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo credit: Twitter

GRASSROOTS? $15 minimum wage supporters protest in Service Employees International Union shirts, waving signs from SEIU-funded Missouri Jobs With Justice

By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org

Labor front groups are making headway in their “Fight for $15” fast-food organizing campaign in Missouri’s two largest cities.

Officials in Kansas City and St. Louis have taken steps toward hiking each city’s minimum hourly wage to $15 in response to protests for a “living wage.”

Missouri’s press tends to treat Fight for $15 as a grassroots movement led by local fast-food workers. It’s anything but. Service Employees International Union has poured more than $3 million into St. Louis Organizing Committee, one of the groups orchestrating Fight for $15 events in Missouri.

In 2013, St. Louis Organizing Committee received $1.4 million from SEIU headquarters in Washington, D.C. Last year that figure increased to $1.9 million.

Over the past two years, 99.9 percent of St. Louis Organizing Committee’s money came from SEIU. Why has SEIU invested so much in St. Louis Organizing Committee?

Because the minimum wage campaign is really a union recruitment drive. Campaign signs, banners and social media acknowledge as much with calls for “$15 and a union.”

In a May news story, Communist Party USA even referred to SEIU’s Missouri-based nonprofit as “the St. Louis Organizing Committee for ‘$15 and a Union.'”

RELATED: Union bosses are lovin’ $15 an hour fast-food protests

Over the past two years, St. Louis Organizing Committee has paid $1 million to Missouri Jobs With Justice, a coalition of unions and left-wing nonprofits playing a starring role in the Fight for $15 in Missouri.

In addition to SEIU’s generous — albeit indirect — funding, Missouri Jobs With Justice got $53,750 from other unions in 2013 and $108,875 from other unions in 2014.

Through St. Louis Organizing Committee, in 2013 SEIU funneled $407,852 to Midwest Center for Equality and Democracy, whose “Stand Up KC” campaign calls for a minimum wage hike in Kansas City.

SEIU’s efforts in Kansas City and St. Louis may be just as D.C.-driven as “grassroots” SEIU campaigns in other states, but SEIU is on the verge of two big wins in Missouri.

Kansas City Council could vote on a proposed $15 minimum wage ordinance as soon as July. Mayor Sly James, an independent, has convened a stakeholder group to talk about the proposal.

In St. Louis, Democrat mayor Francis Slay supports a proposed minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2020.

Officials in Kansas City and St. Louis failed to respond to questions about whether they had discussed the $15 minimum wage — or potential exemptions for unionized workers — with SEIU organizers.

Not all Missourians are as enthusiastic about Fight for $15 as Missouri Jobs With Justice is paid to be.

Photo credit: Show-Me Institute

Show-Me Institute policy researcher Michael Rathbone

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is bad policy because it’s going to cost jobs,” Michael Rathbone, a policy researcher at the free-market Show-Me Institute, said in an interview with Watchdog.org.

“People talk about getting a ‘living wage.’ Well, I’m sure it’s difficult to live on a minimum wage salary — it’s gonna be a lot harder to live on no salary at all,” Rathbone added.

Rathbone cited a 2014 study from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimating a national minimum wage increase to $10.10 would cost 500,000 jobs.

“I shudder to think what the result would be if the minimum wage went up to $15 an hour,” he said, noting that minimum wage mandates reduce opportunities for entry-level workers to learn valuable skills for higher-paying jobs.

Wage mandates may not help workers as advertised, but they’re great for union bosses for reasons beyond the goodwill SEIU aims to create among potential new members.

For unions collecting dues as a percentage of members’ pay, minimum wage hikes automatically increase the amount of dues money the union collects.

Because unions increase a business’ cost of labor, forcing all employers to pay $15 an hour would take a competitive advantage away from non-unionized businesses.

In Los Angeles, where unions recently won a fight to phase in a $15 minimum wage, unions hope to gain business support for unionization by exempting their own members from the local wage mandate.

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Jason was formerly a reporter for Watchdog.org