Leading Union Executive in $15 Minimum Wage Campaign Suspended After Complaints of Relationships With Staffers

Scott Courtney of the "Fight for $15" campaign addresses delegates on the second day of the Labour Party conference on September 26, 2016 in Liverpool, England / Getty Images
Scott Courtney of the "Fight for $15" campaign / Getty
• October 19, 2017 2:12 pm


The Service Employees International Union has suspended Executive Vice President Scott Courtney after questions arose about his sexual conduct that may have violated the union's ethics and anti-nepotism policies.

Courtney is one of the top labor figures in the "Fight For $15" minimum wage campaign for the fast-food workforce.

Seven people who have worked with Courtney told BuzzFeed News he has a history of sexual relationships with younger women who were subsequently promoted. Two of the individuals said no significant action was taken in response to complaints of sexual harassment and abuse by supervisors – supervisors who reported to Courtney, according to the report.

The union's international president, Mary Kay Henry, wrote 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. Such relationships are governed by our union’s ethical code and anti-nepotism policy."

Henry said she had suspended Courtney amid an investigation by the union's general counsel.

Courtney's behavior was an "open secret" among women in the "Fight for $15" campaign, BuzzFeed reports:

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.

The Fight for $15, which is focused on raising the wages of a low-wage, largely female fast-food workforce, has been the highest-profile symbol of that effort, and won dramatic victories from New York to Arizona to California. But women inside the union say the internal culture of the Fight for $15 contrasts starkly with the values Henry and the union preach.

"Our union has been fighting for justice for working families, immigrants, women, people of color, LGBTQ people and people of all faiths and backgrounds in their work places, in our communities and in our economy and democracy," Henry wrote in her email. "Just as we fight to make change in our society, we know that our organization should reflect the kind of just society that we fight for across the country."

Suspending Courtney is the most severe course of action Henry could take in her authority as president against an officer of his stature.

Published under: Minimum Wage