Et tu, SEIU? Accused of misogyny, the progressive SEIU is caught up in a Weinstein-like scandal of its own making.Coming on the heels of the Hollywood sex scandal involving movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU, for short) is taking action against one of the union’s top executives and a leader of the union’s “Fight for $15” movement.
According to multiple media sources, including Buzzfeed, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry suspended the union’s Executive Vice President, writing in an email to her staff that “questions were raised about Executive Vice President Scott Courtney relating to a romantic relationship between a staff person and a supervisor.”
The complaints about Courtney had been an open secret among women in the high-profile Fight for $15 campaign within the union, which is itself led by one of the most visible women in American labor. The SEIU lies at the heart of the US labor movement’s attempt to transform itself from a traditional trade union body into a broad force for social and progressive change for union members and nonunion members alike.
Courtney, who was paid nearly $230,000 last year by the SEIU, “had a history of sexual relationships with young women staffers — who were subsequently promoted,” seven current and former SEIU staffers told Buzzfeed.
Although the SEIU has suspended Courtney, the union did tell Bloomberg BNA that “no conclusions have been reached as yet and we continue to gather information.”
Some progressives said the SEIU did not go far enough in suspending Courtney, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Shaunna Thomas, cofounder of the feminist advocacy group UltraViolet, called on the union to fire Courtney immediately. Instead of investigating the particular allegations before making a decision, Thomas said, it should review its own sexual harassment policies.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace, but it’s particularly disturbing to learn that an organization dedicated to protecting workers has allowed a culture of harassment and abuse to flourish within its ranks,” Thomas said in a statement. “The SEIU must immediately move to fire Courtney, and conduct a review of the organization’s sexual harassment policies. This is wholly unacceptable, and the SEIU leadership must act quickly to ensure that it never happens again.”
While the SEIU grapples with its investigation of Courtney—who is currently on his honeymoon after marrying an SEIU staffer—the SEIU is dealing with additional negative news from a former Fight for $15 organizer who says “sexual harassment was pervasive” at the SEIU.
The organizer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation, said two supervisors at the union sexually harassed her, including a man directly affiliated with Fight for $15 movement. She was not surprised when SEIU President Mary Kay Henry announced that she suspended Executive Vice President Scott Courtney.
“Unfortunately, I’m not surprised at all given the broad environment of misogyny at [the union],” she said. “I personally experienced sexual harassment from two people in supervisory positions.”
With the amount of young idealists that the SEIU hires, whether or not the progressive union will ever truly rid itself of its misogynistic ways remains to be seen.