Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, one of many nation’s largest and most politically highly effective labor unions, introduced Tuesday that she would step down after 14 years in her place.
Ms. Henry was the primary girl elected to steer the union, which represents almost two million employees like janitors and residential well being aides in each the private and non-private sectors.
Under her management, it launched a serious initiative referred to as the Fight for $15, which sought to arrange fast-food employees and push for a $15 minimal wage. Winning over skeptics within the ranks, Ms. Henry argued that the union may make beneficial properties via a broad-based marketing campaign that focused the trade as an entire moderately than particular person employers.
Labor consultants and trade officers cite the marketing campaign as a serious drive behind vital minimum-wage will increase in states together with California and New York and cities like Seattle and Chicago. It additionally pushed a latest California legislation making a council to set a minimal wage within the fast-food trade, which is able to develop into $20 an hour in April, and to suggest new well being and security requirements.
But the Fight for $15 marketing campaign has not unionized employees on a big scale and enabled them to barter collective bargaining agreements with their employers.
Ms. Henry’s tenure has coincided with a collection of legislative and authorized challenges to organized labor, together with state legal guidelines rolling again collective bargaining rights and permitting employees to decide out of once-mandatory union charges, in addition to a landmark Supreme Court ruling permitting authorities workers to do the identical.
The union’s membership has stayed almost flat on Ms. Henry’s watch, whereas the general proportion of Americans represented by unions has declined roughly 15 p.c. But the union misplaced necessary charges from greater than 200,000 nonmembers, inflicting a major lack of income.
The union will choose Ms. Henry’s successor via a vote of delegates at its quadrennial conference in May.
“I’m ready to pass the baton,” Ms. Henry, 66, stated in an interview. “S.E.I.U. is packed with powerful, dynamic, multiracial leaders of the next generation who are ready to grab this moment of worker uprising.”
The union’s second-ranking official, Secretary-Treasurer April Verrett, stated in an interview that she supposed to be a candidate for the highest job.
A longtime organizer, Ms. Henry was an govt vice chairman when the union’s board selected her to fill out the presidential time period of Andy Stern, who resigned in 2010. She received the primary of three full four-year phrases in 2012.
Ms. Henry’s method has invited criticism that the union is simply too top-down in its efforts.
The organizer and scholar Jane McAlevey has criticized the Fight for $15 for being too targeted on what she calls “mobilizing” — that’s, relying closely on an expert employees, consultants and activists to generate consideration and form public opinion — moderately than constructing an intensive, worker-led group.
As S.E.I.U. received extra concerned in a union marketing campaign that an affiliate, Workers United, launched at Starbucks in 2021, some Starbucks employees stated decision-making and communications had develop into extra centralized.
In the interview, Ms. Henry rejected the rivalry that the union’s campaigns didn’t prominently contain employees, however stated it was essential to pair ground-level organizing with different methods that pressured employers. Ms. Henry stated the union had sought to put money into the Starbucks marketing campaign, because it was doing in an effort to exchange among the firm’s administrators, to make it extra complete.
The union has additionally been a drive in politics and in coverage debates. Ms. Henry took the highest job shortly after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which the union had mobilized to assist go. She threw the union into defending the well being care laws in opposition to Republican makes an attempt to repeal it.
The union’s political bets beneath Ms. Henry haven’t at all times labored out, like its endorsement of Hillary Clinton early within the 2016 presidential marketing campaign cycle. Many members later turned passionate about her Democratic major rival, Bernie Sanders.
In 2020, the union took a unique tack, laying out a coverage agenda that it urged candidates to embrace, which included making it simpler for employees to cut price on an industrywide foundation and making massive investments in house care and baby care, together with elevated pay for care employees. Joseph R. Biden Jr. included lots of the union’s concepts into his home coverage platform en path to the presidency.
“It’s an example of how we take stock and evaluate leadership decisions, and draw lessons and think about what we want to do differently next time,” Ms. Henry stated of the change in method.
Still, main house care and baby care measures proposed by Mr. Biden died within the Senate.
Ms. Henry stated the union was spending closely on this yr’s political elections.
“We want to finish the job,” she stated. “We have Senate targets, House targets, governors, state legislators, city councils — to make all the major gains we can make.”