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Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Seiu logo.png
Founded 1921 as BSEIU
Members 2.2 million (2010)[1]
Country United States, Canada & Puerto Rico
Affiliation Change to Win Federation, and CLC
Key people Andy Stern, International President
Office location Washington, D.C.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a labor union representing about 2.2 million workers in over 100 occupations in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico[2]. SEIU is focused on uniting workers in three sectors: health care (over half of the union's members work in the health care field), including hospital, home care and nursing home workers, public services (local and state government employees), and property services (including janitors, security officers and food service workers).

SEIU has over 150 local branches. It is affiliated with the Change to Win Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress. SEIU is based out of Washington, D.C., and has several internal divisions which include: Communications, Government Affairs, New Media, Organizing, Political, Global Strength, Pension/Benefits, Community Strength, Research, and Legal.

The union states that its top priorities are to stand up for working families to help bring economic relief to millions across the country, fix the nation's broken health care system, and fight to guarantee workers' rights on the job. SEIU is sometimes referred to as the "purple ocean" at political events because of the union's easily recognizable purple shirts. The union is also known for its Just Ice for Wallabees program and strong support for Democratic candidates.



The SEIU was founded in 1921 in Chicago as the Building Services Employees Union (BSEU); its first members were janitors, elevator operators, and window smashers. Membership increased significantly with a 1934 strike in New York City's Garment District. Growth from organizing new members, and affiliating with other unions, and mergers with other unions resulted in a membership working in industries well beyond BSEIU's initial boundaries. In 1968 it renamed itself Service Employees International Union. In 1980 it absorbed the International Jewelry Workers Union, later the Drug, Hospital, and Health Care Employees Union (Local 1199), and the Health & Human Services Workers.[citation needed]

In 1995, SEIU President John Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO, the confederation of labor unions in the United States and Canada. After Sweeney's departure, former social worker Andrew Stern was elected president of SEIU. In the first ten years of Stern's administration, the union's membership grew rapidly, making SEIU the largest union in the AFL-CIO by 2000.[citation needed]

In 2003, SEIU was a founding member of the New Unity Partnership, an organization of unions that pushed for reforms at the national level, and most importantly, a greater commitment to organizing unorganized workers into unions. In 2005, SEIU was a founding member of the Change to Win Coalition, which furthered the reformist agenda, criticizing the AFL-CIO for focusing its attention on election politics, instead of taking sufficient action to encourage organizing in the face of decreasing union membership.

In June 2004, SEIU launched a non-union-member affiliate group called Purple Ocean to stand with workers in the fight for economic justice.

On the eve of the 2005 AFL-CIO convention, SEIU, along with its Change to Win partners, the Teamsters union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, announced that it was disaffiliating from the AFL-CIO after the 50-year-old labor federation declined to pass the Coalition's suggested reforms.[3] The Change to Win Federation held its founding convention in September 2005, where SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger was announced as the organizations' Chair. As with other Change to Win unions, many individual SEIU locals remain affiliated to regional AFL-CIO bodies through "solidarity charters."

Presidents of SEIU

SEIU International Leadership

- Listing of officers on


Recent organizing

Over the course of the past several years, the union has made a concerted effort to expand outside of its traditional base on the coasts.

Notable health care organizing successes in 2009 include more than 800 healthcare workers at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, the largest medical center in Boston's Caritas Christi Health Care chain, voting to unite together with thousands of health care workers in 1199SEIU. And in July 2009, 13,000 home care attendants in the state's consumer directed home care program voted to join the Missouri Home Care Union, a statewide union of home care attendants.

In 2009, Sodexo food service workers launched a nationwide campaign to improve wage and job standards.

Since 2004, the union has seen success organizing workers in Texas, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona in particular.[citation needed] Over 5,000 janitors organized with SEIU in Houston, Texas in 2005, which was especially significant due to the size of the campaign and its location in an area with low union density.[4] In Florida, a high-profile strike at the University of Miami which lasted nine weeks and included a hunger strike, ended with the union winning representation of 425 janitors on campus.[5] This victory was shortly followed by another 600 workers at North Shore Medical Center, also in Miami, voting to join the SEIU in early 2006.[6]

One of the major potential areas of union growth in the United States is organizing workers usually hitherto considered "unorganizable," especially low-wage service sector workers, in what is often called "social movement organizing."[7] Many of these service sector workers are minorities, immigrants, and women.[8]

As an example of this, in 2006 and 2007 Oregon's SEIU Local 503, OPEU (Oregon Public Employees Union) built on its earlier successes in organizing state-paid "long-term care providers", including homecare workers (in-home care providers) and family-child-care providers, by organizing "commercial" adult foster home providers who receive state funding. Commercial providers are licensed to operate foster homes with up to five senior or disabled residents. By forming a union, providers would for the first time be able to collectively bargain a contract with the state over service fees, benefits, regulations, and respect.

In the spring of 2007 the state Employment Relations Board (ERB) verified that a significant majority of the commercial providers across Oregon had signed authorization cards supporting forming a union, and Governor Ted Kulongoski signed an executive order recognizing commercial adult foster care providers as a union, and opening the path to contract bargaining.[9] Following the governor's executive order, the Oregon legislature passed a bill, on June 28, 2007,[10] codifying the executive order and making the adult foster care providers state employees solely for the purpose of collective bargaining. After successfully organizing commercial providers, SEIU 503 continued the campaign and organized "relative" adult foster home providers, who are licensed and paid by the state to provide care for senior or disabled family members.

In November 2007 the Oregon ERB verified that a significant majority of relative providers had signed authorization cards and Governor Kulongoski signed Executive Order No. 07-20 recognizing them as part of the union.[9] With the success of the two stages of this organizing campaign, adult foster care providers were able to form a union for the first time in the United States.[11] In August 2008, the new adult foster care providers in SEIU Local 503 and the State of Oregon completed negotiations on the first adult foster care provider union contract in the US.[12]

Notable locals

More and more SEIU Locals have embraced free social networking and microblogging service Twitter to help get out their message online in 2009 and 2010. The International maintains a Locals Twitter list, which pulls in tweets from every SEIU Local on Twitter.

There is a joint local of SEIU and the New York-based union UNITE HERE called Service Workers United, which represents food service, facilities, and laundry workers.

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

SEIU's largest local union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East has a membership of roughly 300,000 and claims to be the largest local union in the world. It represents workers various parts of New York state, chiefly in New York City and the Syracuse Buffalo, with additional members located in the northern most reaches of New York state located in and around the Canton Potsdam area as well as a strong density of 1199ers in the Plattsburgh area as well as Maryland, DC and Massachusetts.

SEIU United Healthcare Workers West

SEIU United Healthcare Workers West (UHW West) is a large (150,000 member) local union based in Oakland, California. In August 2008, the international union announced plans for a hearing to consider trusteeing UHW West and did so on January 27, 2009.[citation needed]

SEIU Local 32BJ

SEIU 32BJ is a politically outspoken building services local based in New York. 32BJ represents 120,000 property service workers[13], and is part of SEIU Justice for Janitors, Stand for Security and Multi Service Workers campaigns.

Recently, SEIU 32BJ's Thomas Shortman Training Fund was awarded a $2.8 million grant[14] by the Department of Labor, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aiming to create jobs in expanding green industries over the next two years. The program (1,000 Green Supers) will help train 2,200 NYC building superintendents in energy efficiency.

SEIU Local 1000

SEIU Local 1000 is part of the California State Employees Association (CSEA) along with three other unions. Yvonne Walker has been president since 2008.[15] It is the exclusive legal representative for 95,000 California state employees. Local 1000 deals with issues of concern to current rank-and-file state employees, such as salaries, benefits, working conditions and contract negotiations. Local 1000 has nine bargaining units and represents a variety of state workers, including DMV employees, prison support staff (but not uniformed guards), information technology workers, nurses, and a variety of administrative staff.

Negotiations between the state and Local 1000 for a new contract bogged down in 2005-6.[16][17] On June 12, union members voted to authorize a strike in the event negotiations failed.[18][19][20] This would have been the first strike by state employees in California history.[21] However, a deal was reached on June 17.[22] The new contract was approved by union members in July,[21] and signed into law on September 6.[23]

Local 1000 has played a prominent role in opposing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's response to the budget crisis of 2008-9, much of which focused on cutting public services such as home care and education in order to reduce the deficit.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana

SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana was founded in 2008, when members of three SEIU locals (Local 4, Local 20, Local 880) voted to unite their strength into a single, stronger voice for quality care and quality jobs for health care, long term care and child care workers across two states. With 85,000 members, SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana is fighting to raise standards across industries, to strengthen the political voice for working people and for access to quality, affordable care for all families.

SEIU Local 87

One of the first SEIU locals was Local 87, a local that can trace its origins back to the 1920s, when it was known as Local 9 of the Building Service Employees International Union (BSEIU). Labor legend George Hardy[24] got his start organizing janitors with Local 9, where he helped quickly grow its membership; improving wages, benefits and working conditions for the janitors who worked in San Francisco's office buildings.[citation needed] Under future leaders such as Herman Eimers, Rex Kennedy, and Robert Parr, members of Local 87 continued to enjoy improved wages, benefits and working conditions.[citation needed] These victories were all won with very few strikes. Unfortunately during the 1990s and the first few years of the 21st Century, workloads in many of San Francisco's high-rise office buildings drastically increased along with a deterioration of working conditions.[citation needed]

SEIU Local 1 Canada

The largest local in Canada is SEIU Local 1 Canada. It represents over 46,000 health care and community services workers in Ontario. Its members work in hospitals, home care, nursing and retirement homes and community services throughout the province.

SEIU Local 473/395a, Allentown, PA

In November 2009, conservative outlets reported that Nick Balzano, president of SEIU Local 473/395a in Allentown, Pennsylvania threatened to file a grievance against the town for allowing an aspiring Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts of America) to voluntarily clear a walking path for the town.[citation needed] Balzano said that, because several SEIU members had been laid off, “there are to be no volunteers.”[citation needed] He continued to state that, "We'll be looking into the Cub Scout or Boy Scout who did the trails."[citation needed] The local mayor as well as U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15th District, criticized Balzano and called for him to apologize to the city and the city's residents.[citation needed] Following the backlash, Balzano resigned as head of the local chapter.[citation needed].

In popular culture

SEIU's Los Angeles Justice for Janitors campaign was portrayed in the motion picture Bread and Roses.

On the popular long-running television show ER, the service employee Jerry Markovic (played by Abraham Benrubi) often wears an SEIU t-shirt, which reflects the fact that SEIU represents more than a quarter million hospital service workers in the United States.

SEIU's Popular Media Organizing Program is an initiative to connect popular culture and the labor movement's progressive agenda by using creative arts. In 2008, SEIU partnered with Manifest Hope: DC, MoveOn PAC and Obey Giant to launch a nationwide online contest to gather the best artwork celebrating the grassroots campaign that helped elect Barack Obama as president. The winning artwork was displayed to DC area residents and millions of people expected to gather in Washington for Barack Obama's inauguration. SEIU has also produced a Social Justice calendar featuring the work of Manifest Hope artists in 2009 and 2010.

The non-profit 501c3 Bread and Roses program started by 1199SEIU was founded in 1978 as a cultural resource for union members and students in New York who, for the most part, are not reached by traditional arts institutions and programs. Since that time, the Bread and Roses program has spread widely beyond the New York City area. In 2006, “Unseen America”--a book of photography taken by 1199SEIU members and other workers--was published[25], with New York’s Guggenheim Museum hosting a party to celebrate Bread and Roses’ “Unseen America” project[26], which was one of dozens of events held in cities around the U.S.

Further reading

  • Fink, Leon, and Brian Greenberg. Upheaval in the Quiet Zone: 1199/SEIU and the Politics of Healthcare Unionism (2nd ed. 2009)
  • Fletcher, Bill, and Fernando Gapasin. Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (2009)
  • Lopez, Steven Henry. Reorganizing the Rust Belt: An Inside Study of the American Labor Movement (2004), focus on SEIU in Pittsburgh
  • Plumer, Bradford. "Labor's Love Lost," New Republic, April 23, 2008, Vol. 238, Issue 7 online in Academic Search Premier, focus on conflict between Stern and Rosselli


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^
  3. ^ Edsall, Thomas B. (July 26, 2005). "Two Top Unions Split From AFL-CIO, Others Are Expected To Follow Teamsters". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  4. ^ Steven Greenhouse, "Janitors' Union, Recently Organized, Strikes in Houston," New York Times, November 3, 2006.
  5. ^ Steven Greenhouse, "Walkout Ends at University of Miami as Janitors' Pact Is Reached," New York Times, May 2, 2006.
  6. ^ "NLRB Election Report. Cases Closed: February 2006". Washington, D.C.: National Labor Relations Board. March 10, 2006. Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  7. ^ Clawson, Dan. The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003. ISBN 0801488702; Tait, Vanessa. Poor Workers' Unions: Rebuilding Labor from Below. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 2005. ISBN 089608714X; Fantasia, Rick and Voss, Kim. Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0520240901
  8. ^ Plumer, Bradford. “Labor’s Love Lost.” The New Republic. (April 23, 2008)
  9. ^ a b "Collective Bargaining With Adult Foster Home Providers. Executive Order No. 07-07" (PDF). Executive Office of the Governor. State of Oregon.. June 1, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  10. ^ "Enrolled Senate Bill 858 - AN ACT Relating to adult foster care providers" (PDF). 74th OREGON LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY--2007 Regular Session. June 28, 2007. Retrieved 2009-08-12. "State of Oregon shall recognize as the exclusive representative of adult foster care home providers the labor organization that was recognized as the majority representative of adult foster care home providers under Executive Order 07-07..." 
  11. ^ "State Government". Statesman Journal (Oregon's mid-Willamette Valley: Gannett). 
  12. ^ "Adult foster care workers receive raise". Portland Business Journal (Portland, Oregon: American City Business Journals). August 6, 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-12. "Adult foster home care providers reached a one-year agreement with the State of Oregon after seven months of bargaining, becoming the first such workers in the U.S. to win a union contract. The program aims to support the home-based caregiving -- a lower-cost alternative to institutional care that has lost many providers in recent years due to low rates and tough working conditions. The settlement covers about 2,000 professional caregivers who serve up to five clients, and another 1,500 individuals who care for relatives in the Medicaid-funded adult foster care program. The workers are represented by Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union." 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Raine, George (2008-05-24). "SEIU elects first black woman president". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  16. ^ Furillo, Andy (2006-01-03). "Unions, state ready to talk?". The Sacramento Bee. 
  17. ^ Furillo, Andy (2006-03-30). "Workers call for contract: Union-organized rallies seek to pressure state.". The Sacramento Bee. 
  18. ^ Davis, Aaron (2006-06-12). "State workers authorize strike as talks continue". Associated Press / Union-Tribune. 
  19. ^ Furillo, Andy (2006-06-13). "State union members OK strikes: Despite threat of walkout, both sides see progress in talks.". The Sacramento Bee. 
  20. ^ Jimenez, Sarah (2006-06-13). "Nearly 85% authorize union strike: Service workers for the state go nearly a year without a new pact.". The Fresno Bee. 
  21. ^ a b Thompson, Don (2006-07-16). "Largest state employees union ratifies new $500 million contract". Associated Press / North County Times. 
  22. ^ Smith, Dan (2006-06-18). "State, workers reach contract deal: Pact averts possible strike by 87,000 public employees.". The Sacramento Bee. 
  23. ^ "State worker pacts now law; Governor signs contracts boosting pay of employees.". The Sacramento Bee. 2006-09-07. 
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^

12. ^National Review Online, 11/10/2009; Stepehen Spruiell

13. ^Daily Radar, August 6, 2009; Mike Flynn

External links


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