In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision in June of 2018, unions have begun to feel the pressure to retain members and confront their political foes in 2020.
The Service Employees International Union, one of the largest unions in the United States with almost two million members nationwide, has pledged to spend $150 million to defeat President Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election. The union has been quietly rolling out this plan over the last month or so, but it would be the most expensive voter engagement and turnout operation SEIU has ever undertaken.
With a focus on activating blue-collar minority and low-propensity voters, the effort will concentrate on urban areas in electoral swing states like Detroit and Milwaukee, large Midwestern population centers in states that Trump won in 2016. Overall, the plan aims to contact over 40 million voters across eight battleground states.
SEIU is keen to note that the Trump campaign has made some recent inroads with black voters, particularly men, who have voted Democratic in the past.
“They’re talking about the strength of the economy,” said Maria Peralta, political director for SEIU. President Trump frequently cites the record-low unemployment rate among the black community as one of his administration’s triumphs, as wages and opportunity rebound for many Americans who have felt left behind in the economy.
Many pundits point to the lackluster turnout among African American and Latino populations as what enabled President Trump to beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, two groups that performed well for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. President Trump received only 8% support from black voters in 2016, and some polls have shown that he has a long way to go in gaining trust with these voters.
In Maine, the average SEIU member pays almost $500 in dues annually, but in other states dues can be as high as $1,000 per year. The union’s political spending accounts for less than ten percent of workers’ dues. The SEIU recognizes that about 20% of its members are conservative, which could become a problem for them if those members disagree with the union’s political speech.
Under the Janus decision, union members are no longer compelled to finance union activity — representational or political — as a condition of employment, and must give their affirmative consent in order to have dues or fees withdrawn from their paychecks.
It remains to be seen if SEIU will fulfill its pledge to mobilize voters for Democrats if Sen. Bernie Sanders secures that party’s nomination for president, given his support for “Medicare for All.” The proposal would do away with private health plans, including union-negotiated employer plans in favor of a single-payer, government-run healthcare program. Many unions, including Nevada’s Culinary Workers’ Union, did not endorse Sanders partially for that reason.
This year, unions like SEIU will face greater challenges to maintain their power. They see President Trump’s reelection as a serious threat, and are willing to take on politicians they see as hampering their effectiveness. Will the strength of the US economy be too much for union political spending to overcome?