Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has announced that she will be stepping down from her position after 14 years of leadership. During her tenure, Ms. Henry made history as the first woman to lead the union, which represents nearly two million workers in both the public and private sectors. One of the major initiatives launched under her leadership was the Fight for $15 campaign, which sought to organize fast-food workers and push for a $15 minimum wage. This campaign was credited with being a major force behind significant minimum-wage increases in several states and cities.
However, while the Fight for $15 was hailed as an “extraordinary achievement,” it did not lead to significant unionization of workers or enable them to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with their employers. The union’s membership has stayed nearly flat under Ms. Henry’s watch, and the overall percentage of Americans represented by unions has declined roughly 15 percent. Additionally, the union has faced legislative and legal challenges, including state laws rolling back collective bargaining rights and a landmark Supreme Court ruling allowing government employees to opt out of once-mandatory union fees.
Despite these challenges, Ms. Henry has been commended for her willingness to take chances on bold initiatives. The union’s efforts have also extended into the realm of politics and policy debates, with the SEIU playing a role in defending the Affordable Care Act and providing input into Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s domestic policy platform.
Opinions on Ms. Henry’s leadership approach vary, with some critics arguing that the union’s campaigns have been too top-down in nature and too focused on mobilizing rather than building an extensive, worker-led organization. Others, however, praise the union’s efforts to pressure employers and its involvement in policy debates.
In conclusion, Ms. Henry’s departure marks a significant transition for the SEIU, as the union prepares to select her successor through a vote of delegates at its quadrennial convention in May. Her legacy will be hotly debated, as the union continues to navigate challenges in a shifting labor landscape.