It is a fascinating dichotomy. An SEIU-backed effort to raise the minimum wage in Milwaukee County actually falls short of its promises while SEIU executives collect hefty salaries from union members.
The Service Employees International Union and its political organizing arm, Wisconsin Jobs Now, worked in tandem to pass a so-called “living wage” ordinance that would require some Milwaukee County contractors to pay a higher minimum wage to their employees. Contractors can avoid the requirement that they pay workers a minimum of $11.33 per hour if they join the SEIU.
It is a thinly disguised attempt by a powerful union to generate more members. In 2005 the SEIU’s Joint Council 4, which is a conglomeration of several SEIU-affiliated unions in the state, reported having 17,503 members. In 2012, SEIU union membership dropped to 9,118.
The SEIU reportedly helped draft the minimum wage hike ordinance while Wisconsin Jobs Now rustled up public opinion and orchestrated grassroots pressure to push County Board members to support the plan. “[A]nyone that works should take home a wage that keeps them out of poverty and from needing to rely on public assistance,” Wisconsin Jobs Now explains on its website.
But while the minimum wage increase in Milwaukee is only a token measure that won’t apply to workers not employed by county contractors, SEIU executives in Wisconsin are making good salaries. To protect those salaries, they need more members.
Dian Palmer is the president of SEIU Healthcare, the largest single SEIU organization in the state. According to records on file at the U.S. Department of Labor, Palmer made $157,212 in 2012.
Bonita Strauss has the title of “Special Project Director” for SEIU Healthcare and she was paid $96,913 in 2012, the latest year for which records are available.
Michael Thomas is the president of SEIU Local 150 in Milwaukee and the president of SEIU Joint Council 4. Between the two he made $101,061 in 2012.
Thomas’ vice president at SEIU Local 150 is Carmen Dickinson. She made $80,354 in 2012.
The generous compensation packages these four SEIU bosses have illustrates the chasm of difference between being a voter used by the SEIU and a labor boss who benefits from the established system. While many Milwaukee workers will never see a minimum wage hike under the new county ordinance, and some county contracted workers may not even see a paycheck increase, what is sure is that labor bosses at the top will still retain extraordinarily comfortable salaries.
In the SEIU, it pays to be boss and not a political foot soldier.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly listed Michael Thomas as “Michael Palmer.” The story above has been updated with that correction.