[Promoted from the Diaries]
Since 2005, the Service Employees International Union has lost 8,385 members in Wisconsin. With SEIU bosses making high five-figure and even six-figure salaries, and Governor Scott Walker's reforms making it difficult for them to justify their income, they have banded together to issue a sort of ultimatum to Milwaukee County businesses.
Earlier in February, the SEIU 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 for the county government can avoid the requirement they pay workers a minimum of $11.33 per hour if they join the SEIU.
The move is a seemingly brazen attempt to bolster union membership while scoring political points in a Democratic vote stronghold. In 2005 the SEIU's Joint Council 4, which is a conglomeration of several SEIU-affiliated unions in Wisconsin, reported having 17,503 members. By 2012, the last year for which data is available, SEIU union membership dropped to 9,118.
The SEIU 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 need more members to protect their salaries.
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 illustrate 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.