Leadership

A longtime labor adversary of the restaurant business is stepping down

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said she will not seek re-election, ending a 14-year tenure of unprecedented union activity within the industry.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry | Photo: Shutterstock

The union leader who ignited the nationwide push for a $15 hourly wage and raised labor activism within the restaurant business to unprecedented levels has announced she’ll step down as president of the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in May.

Mary Kay Henry has led the union as it squared off with restaurant employers in recent years on any number of issues, from the adoption of a new wage-setting model in California to efforts currently underway in a number of states to kill the tip credit.

Through affiliated labor groups like Workers United, the SEIU was also the deep-pocketed supporter of the ongoing effort to organize Starbucks units and to redefine restaurant franchisors as joint employers of their franchisees’ staffs.

Henry has led the union since May 2010. During that time, the minimum wage has been raised to at least $15 an hour in 14 states and about 40 cities and counties. As a result of those increases, employers paid their workers an additional $150 billion in wages to the 26 million covered employees, the union estimates.

The announcement of Henry’s decision to end her tenure as SEIU president revealed that even some within the union had doubts a $15 wage was possible. The Fight for $15 movement, later changed to Fight for $15 and a Union, grew out of a protest by 200 fast-food workers in New York City. That amount was roughly double the federal minimum wage, as it remains today.

The industry largely scoffed at the time at the notion of a $15 wage. But the idea caught on and soon became a standard target for labor advocates from coast to coast.

Henry’s successor as head of the SEIU will be chosen at the SEIU’s international convention in May.

Although Henry will not seek re-election as president at that time, her comments suggests she’s not ending her involvement in the labor movement.

“I will take on any fight that helps workers win historic breakthroughs and improve their lives,” she said in a statement. “There is still so much more to do. I have never been more confident about our future.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.

Multimedia

Exclusive Content

Financing

Why Wingstop isn't afraid of Popeyes' chicken wings

The Bottom Line: The fast-casual wing chain says its sales improve when another brand pushes the product. Here’s why that might be.

Food

Mendocino Farms masters a meaty Philly cheesesteak sandwich—without the meat

Behind the Menu: The fast casual uses a mushroom-based meat alternative for its Philly Shroomsteak Sandwich, a new menu item targeted to flexitarians, not just vegans.

Workforce

Pay hike for couriers shakes up food delivery in NYC

Customers are paying more, and couriers are working less. What it all means for restaurants is still unclear, but some fear it could get ugly.

Trending

More from our partners