Political activism cost the shrinking Service Employees International Union more than $30 million last year.
To bring in new dues-paying members, SEIU spent millions of dollars in member dues on the union’s Fight for $15 campaign and lobbying for legalization of illegal immigrants.
Unions concede that minimum wage hikes will cost some entry-level workers their jobs, but Fight for $15 is a top priority for SEIU bosses hoping to unionize fast food workers. The Fight for $15 has been carried out by a network of SEIU-funded groups.
In SEIU’s 2015 disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, the union reported $27.7 million in political activities and lobbying expenditures. Another $2.5 million in expenditures reported as “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” went to expressly political nonprofits.
The union reported “Political Activities” payments of $800,000 to New York affiliate 1199SEIU and $590,633 to Minnesota State Council SEIU. Seattle-based affiliates SEIU 775 and Washington State Council SEIU received $540,000 and $284,996, respectively, from SEIU headquarters.
Union front One Pennsylvania got $201,703 from SEIU, while union front Texas Organizing Project got $200,000. SEIU reported separate political expenditures of $99,996 each to affiliated unions in California, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee.
SEIU paid $350,000 to union front Jobs With Justice Education Fund and $150,000 to union think tank Economic Policy Institute.
Progressive consulting firms profited from SEIU’s ambitious organizing campaigns in 2015. The union paid NGP Van $954,830, Blue State Digital $497,930, The Atlas Project $375,000 and Catalist $328,000.
Catalist and NGP Van have been accused of illegal coordination between activist groups and Democratic campaigns, allegedly using money from SEIU and other labor unions to gather and analyze voter data that are then shared with campaign committees.
SEIU leaders see illegal immigrants as another potential source of dues revenue, although legalizing workers who are in the country illegally will give dues-paying SEIU members more competition for low-skill positions.
Arizona-based Mi Familia Vota received $1.1 million from SEIU last year. SEIU donated $100,000 to National Immigration Forum, $50,000 to National Immigration Law Center, $50,000 to Voto Latino and $25,000 to National Immigration Forum Action Fund.
“SEIU bosses keep peddling the Fight for $15 and other liberal agendas but their members are being shortchanged,” Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, told Watchdog.org. CUF estimates SEIU has spent as much as $70 million on Fight for $15 since 2002.
“SEIU leadership should answer to the needs of the rank-and-file instead of spending millions of dollars on politics,” he said. “Better funding of pension plans and lower union dues would be more responsive to members forced to pay up in order to keep their job.”
Unions were conceived to help member workers bargain for better wages and working conditions on the job, not to spend their dues dollars on political crusades, Berman added.
As in previous years, SEIU devoted millions of dollars in member dues to pet causes of — and far-left activist groups connected to — SEIU leadership in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Much of this spending was not reported as political.
SEIU “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” included $500,000 to leftist grant-making nonprofit See Forward Fund and $120,000 to the secretive Democracy Alliance. A separate $25,000 payment to Democracy Alliance’s Committee on States project was reported as a political expenditure.
Center for American Progress Action fund received $318,315 from SEIU that the union reported to the Department of Labor as political activity, plus an $85,000 donation that was not reported as political.
A $150,000 payment to Tides Foundation and contributions of $100,000 each to American Bridge 21st Century and State Innovation Exchange were reported as political. So were $50,000 contributions to leftist groups Color of Change, Americans United for Change, and Progressive Congress.
Dozens of donations to other progressive groups — including $200,000 to New World Foundation, $100,000 to Center for Community Change Action and $25,000 to former MSNBC host Al Sharpton’s National Action Network — were not reported as political activity.
Neither was a $20,000 contribution to Planned Parenthood. Kirk Adams, who stepped down as SEIU executive vice president late last year, is married to Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
SEIU remains one of the nation’s largest labor unions, with around half of its members in the public sector and around half in the private sector. But the union’s political activism hasn’t translated into membership growth yet.
SEIU had 1,887,941 members at the end of 2015, a loss of more than 5,800 members from the year before and more than 28,000 members since 2010. The union did not respond to questions about how spending decisions are made and disclosed to members.