- - Thursday, April 16, 2015

Facing what appears to be terminal decline, the Service Employees International Union has taken to a desperate Hail Mary play to keep their bank accounts well-funded. This week SEIU and its “worker center” front groups, led by Berlin Rosen — a political consultancy with ties to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other left-wing groups — staged various media stunts claiming to be “strikes” against fast food restaurants for higher wages.

SEIU, the worker centers and Berlin Rosen have become as interesting as that screaming 3-year-old in the mall. They’ve pulled the same press stunt roughly eight times. But who’s counting? The more interesting fact comes from SEIU’s annual reports to the Department of Labor: The union has bet roughly $50 million on this lame street theater.

After spending millions, the union hasn’t seen much return on its investment other than press clippings. While the tax returns and Labor Department filings of the “Worker Organizing Committees” show the real goal is to unionize fast-food restaurants, the “strikes” are not succeeding at turning fry cooks into dues-paying members. After all, if the people doing the demonstrating are largely paid protesters, you can’t honestly call these disruptions “strikes.”

SEIU’s desperation comes from a big problem affecting all of Big Labor. Labor Department data show that only about 6.6 percent of private sector workers are dues-paying union members, down from about 17 percent when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping records in 1983. And it’s getting consistently worse.

To turn that around, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and her colleagues at SEIU headquarters are running a highly organized, top-down playbook. With the support of Berlin Rosen and by directing dozens of well-funded front organizations created to obscure SEIU’s involvement, the union leads a mix of political consultants, union organizers, local protesters and maybe a hand-picked, media-trained “striker” to create the illusion of a grass-roots movement.

But there’s a problem. SEIU’s real goal is unionization — not an increase in the minimum wage for nonunion members. To state the obvious, SEIU needs new dues-paying members to keep the union growing. However, it can’t effectively unionize the heavily franchised fast food industry by its preferred top-down method, since the law considers local franchisees and corporate franchisors separate businesses.

Unionization of one store at a time is not efficient or practical. So SEIU has pumped millions into law firms as part of a strategy to get President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board appointees to declare the fast food brands “joint employers” with the local franchises. That would open a path for pressuring the franchisor to accept a “card-check” plan, where the employees’ right to a secret ballot is forfeited. The result would be to ease millions into a union they would not willingly agree to join if a secret ballot election were available on a store-by-store basis.

But what happens when the “joint employer” fiction doesn’t work, as a federal judge will probably rule some years down the road? Berlin Rosen wouldn’t bat an eye — they’ve taken in more than $2.5 million in business from SEIU headquarters alone over the life of the campaign. You win some, you lose some, but you always go home to your Park Slope condo.

SEIU and its members, however, would be out a massive sum of money paid from the forced dues of janitors, civil servants and nurses. Other than a few well-documented, job-killing mandated raises in far-left cities, what would they have gained?

The top-down organizing of SEIU is failing. No fast food restaurants have been unionized by the campaign, and Ms. Henry’s desperation grows with each half-cocked press stunt. At some point, SEIU will have to put up or shut up — and despite the bravado, you can guess which one is most likely to happen.

Rick Berman is president of Berman and Co., a Washington public affairs firm.

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