Service Employees International Union (Seiu)

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The major role of labor organizations is to fight for the rights of employees. In certain US states, union membership is a prerequisite for employment while in others it is not. This issue has been hotly debated among professionals in various fields. One of the largest unions is Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It is divided into local chapters that are headed by a president for better representation.

SEIU’s Profile

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a labor union that is active in the United States of America and Canada. It has a membership of approximately 2 million employees in three major sectors of the economy: public services, property services, and health care. SEIU is a democratic organization whose leadership structure includes a President, a Secretary-Treasurer, and 6 Executive Vice Presidents (Service Employees International Union, 2020). These officers are elected by members and serve a term of four years.

Its organizational structure includes a national core and local chapters that sometimes extend across states. Examples include United Healthcare Workers West, United Long Term Care Workers, Local 32BJ, Local 87, Local 99, Local 721, and local 1000 among others (Service Employees International Union, 2020). Each of the chapters operates independently and has a president and a vice president.

The organizational structure of local chapters is made up of an Executive Board and an Executive Committee, which has a president and a vice president. The Board makes the major decisions and the Committee implements them. In addition, two financial and two ethics officers offer advice to the executive board on core matters affecting the union. About 50% of the SEIU membership works in the health care industry (Service Employees International Union, 2020). Public services encompass local and state government workers while property services include individuals employed as security officers, janitors, and food service workers. The union was founded in 1921, therefore, it has been in existence for 99 years (Service Employees International Union, 2020).

It operates more than 150 branches within the US and is renowned for supporting the Democratic Party and being a proponent of laws, including the Affordable Care Act.

Legal Disputes

Knox v. SEIU

This court case involved SEIU Local 1000, California’s labor union, and Dianne Knox together with other state employees. In 2005, the workers filed a class-action lawsuit against the union for deductions that violated their First Amendment rights. Non-member employees were assessed 56.35% of annual dues to fund the group’s lobbying initiatives against anti-union propositions that were sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger (Vile, n.d.). SEIU had informed nonmembers that they had a month to withdraw from union dues and instead pay a special fee. After the expiry of the withdrawal deadline, they created a “Political Fight Back Fund” and compelled all workers to contribute by making fee deductions from their salaries (Vile, n.d.). This move was illegal because the union should have contacted the members regarding the decision.

The United States Supreme Court ruled that Dianne Knox and other nonmembers were not notified by the union regarding the deductions. In the 7-2 decision and a 5-4 ruling, the Court held that the decision was illegal and that the union should have notified non-members regarding the imposition of special fees and given them the option to opt-out (Vile, n.d.). The Court struck down the fees imposed on the workers under an agency-shop agreement.

One of the referenda that the union was opposing was aimed at protecting the First Amendment right of employees to not pay fees for political advocacy. The ruling established a new precedent that augmented the requirement of the First Amendment. The Court declined to describe the case as moot; the imposition of a special assessment was a direct violation of the First Amendment as it was conducted without the consent of the individuals upon whom it was imposed (Vile, n.d.). The union admitted that the assessment was meant to raise money for lobbying against specific legislation being pushed by the governor.

Fisher Phillips Employee v. SEIU

The SEIU is widely criticized for its aggressive organizing tactics. Its “Justice for Janitors” program has been termed draconian because it acts against targeted employees. In 2007, Professional Janitorial Service of Houston Inc. (JPS) sued the SEIU for forcing the management to enter into a neutrality agreement (Burns, 2016). The union wanted to use the arrangement as a way of organizing the firm and other building services companies in the area. In that regard, it rallied the workers against their employers by asking them to file unfair labor practice (ULP) claims.

In addition, they defamed the company through fliers, protests, rallies, and online campaigns by claiming that they violate the rights of employees (Burns, 2016). The union argued that the firm had violated several employment laws. However, of the numerous claims presented by the SEIU, only a single complaint was upheld by the arbitrating agency. These accusations affected the company because at least twelve of its associates halted their partnership operations (Burns, 2016). JPS had sufficient reasons to sue the union for the negative effects on its business.

As a result of the bullying, the company took legal action against SEIU Local 5 for its unfair practices that led to the loss of business. The union used several tactics to stall the litigation for at least 10 years until 2016 when it was heard and determined. Accusations ranged from unfair labor practices to loss of wages. The 19 ULPs presented by the union were either withdrawn or resolved by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) (Burns, 2016). During the case hearing, the jury found the union guilty of defamation and disparagement. JPS was awarded more than $5 million in damages that resulted from the union’s aggressive and nefarious organizing tactics.

James v. SEIU Local 668

In 2018, Megan James, Angela Pease, and William Lester, employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, sued their union for denying their request to terminate their memberships. The three workers had been dissatisfied with the union’s services and they were required to continue paying for them until their contracts lapsed. Fee payment was a mandatory requirement for both members and nonmembers (Williams, 2019). They requested for release after the 2018 ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case in which the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to compel government employees to pay union fees. The presiding judge stated that it was demeaning to force independent individuals to support initiatives that they deemed objectionable.

The three filed a class-action lawsuit against SEIU for a right to leave the union at any time. They represented themselves and the union’s 9,000 members that were under the “maintenance of membership” rule. The case has not yet been resolved. However, the pressure the dispute created has forced the union to halt the enforcement of resignation restrictions (Williams, 2019). Currently, an individual can rescind their union membership even though the state’s law authorizes the aforementioned rule. A member can only leave the union during a 15-day window that is incorporated in the union’s collective bargaining agreement (Williams, 2019). The rulings made by the Supreme Court on such matters have always favored the workers. Therefore, the union needed to relax its rules. Many members are opposed to the union’s focus on political agendas while neglecting local issues that affect their welfare.


SEIU has existed for over a century and its membership has grown tremendously. It has been involved in several legal disputes that have challenged its mode of operation. The union has been accused of using aggressive tactics to force workers to keep their memberships. In many instances, the courts have ruled in favor of employees. Members should enjoy the freedom to give up their memberships at any time and should not be compelled to pay fees to support their organization’s political initiatives.


Burns, M. (2016). Union hit for $5 million in damages for aggressive organizing tactics. American Society of Employers.

Service Employees International Union. (2020). About. SEIU. Web.

Vile, J. R. (n.d.). Knox v. Service Employees International Union (2012). The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Web.

Williams, K. (2019). Keith Williams: How 3 workers fought union coercion and won. TribLIVE. Web.

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