Union organizer fired from ‘Fight for 15’ minimum wage group

SHARE Union organizer fired from ‘Fight for 15’ minimum wage group
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Caleb Jennings (with megaphone) at a Fight For 15 protest outside a McDonald’s near 28th and Cicero in 2014. | Sun-Times file photo

The head union organizer for Chicago’s “Fight for 15” chapter was fired earlier this week amid harassment allegations that he denies, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Caleb Jennings was let go Monday, as part of the Service Employees International Union’s ongoing investigation into complaints from staff alleging sexual misconduct and abusive behavior, the source said.

Jennings was president of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which leads the “Fight for 15” effort advocating for a $15 minimum wage. He told the Chicago Sun-Times he wasn’t given a reason for his termination and was never contacted regarding an internal investigation.

“I support the ongoing investigations and I’m against any workplace sexual misconduct and abuse,” Jennings said in an email. “My hope is that SEIU focuses on the systemic abuse that has been going on within the institution, rather than focusing on their public relations damage control. My employment was severed with SEIU without cause, was unjustified, and I am exploring all my options.”

An SEIU spokeswoman said the union “can’t comment on HR-related matters, or any details regarding our ongoing internal investigation.”

Jennings was charged with a misdemeanor count of battery following a June 2016 incident involving a “Fight for 15” worker who claimed Jennings pushed her after she was fired by another WOCC supervisor, according to Cook County court records. A judge found him not guilty, and an internal WOCC investigation cleared him of wrongdoing, records show.

More than 50 staffers signed a letter to SEIU leaders seeking Jennings’ removal as a result of that confrontation, according to a BuzzFeed News report. Jennings says those staffers never worked with him. In response, five “Fight for 15” employees wrote a letter supporting Jennings as “fair, honest and committed to our team.”

Jennings earned a $110,451 salary plus $38,504 in “disbursements for official business” last year as an SEIU organizing coordinator, according to Labor Department records.

“Fight for 15” protesters have staged rallies in Chicago and across the country. SEIU Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare are among a group of investors that recently purchased the Sun-Times.

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