A Closer Look at SEIU

Inside Labor’s Fastest-Growing Union  

The 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union is the fastest- growing union in North America, and its membership is among the most diverse in the labor movement. Since SEIU President Andy Stern took office in 1996, nearly 900,000 workers have united in SEIU. Focused on uniting workers in three sectors, SEIU is the largest health care union, including hospitals, nursing homes, and home care; the largest property services union, including building cleaning and security; and the second largest public employee union.

SEIU is taking bold action to unite the nine out of 10 non-union workers in America. To launch innovative campaigns that will bring new hope and opportunity to workers in today’s global economy, SEIU helped form Change to Win, a new labor federation representing nearly six million members. SEIU and four other Change to Win unions — the Teamsters, UNITE HERE, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Carpenters — disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO, and along with the Laborers and the United Farm Workers, are developing strategic, industry-based organizing campaigns to unite workers’ strength.

SEIU is fighting for quality, affordable health care for all Americans through its Americans for Health Care project. The group is helping to unite working families, small business owners, seniors, health care workers, community leaders, and policy makers to find real solutions to the health care crisis. In states across the map including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, the group’s grassroots push for health care policies will increase access to quality, affordable health care. Over 350,000 “Health Care Voters” have already pledged to make health care their top priority.

SEIU is utilizing the Internet to activate thousands of ordinary Americans to hold elected leaders accountable and challenge unscrupulous employers through its online advocacy arm, PurpleOcean.org. The first-ever Internet-based union affiliate, PurpleOcean.org combines technology with the power of the grassroots to transform members of the general public into activists for social and economic justice and workers’ rights. Recently, thousands of members took action to spread the truth about Wal-Mart’s business model, and how its practices destroy good jobs and damage communities.

SEIU is building a 21st-century global union to help ensure that workers, not just corporations and CEOs, benefit from today’s global economy. SEIU is working with unions in similar industries across the globe to challenge multi-nationals to provide comparable wages and benefits, and allow workers in every country the freedom to form unions. School bus drivers in the United States, with the help of SEIU, have formed a transatlantic partnership with the Transport and General Workers Union in the U.K. to hold accountable their common employer — FirstGroup and its U.S. subsidiary First Student — on both sides of the Atlantic.

SEIU is helping ensure immigrant workers have a shot at the American dream. Representing more immigrants than any other union, SEIU has been a leading voice for immigration reform that rewards work and improves conditions for all working people in this country. SEIU helped pave the way for organized labor to support legalization for hard-working, tax-paying immigrants, and the union’s civic participation program encourages immigrants to actively participate in our communities and our democracy.

SEIU is the nation’s largest union of health care workers with over half of the union’s 1.8 million members working in the field, including 110,000 nurses and 40,000 doctors. SEIU’s Nurse Alliance successfully fought to introduce the first federal safe staffing legislation that would protect patients and improve care by establishing minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, and another bill that would limit mandatory overtime in our nation’s hospitals. By partnering with providers like Kaiser Permanente and the League of Voluntary Hospitals in New York, SEIU caregivers work side-by-side with management to solve problems, and have a voice on the policies and decisions that affect working conditions and the patients in their care.

SEIU is utilizing an innovative, industry-based model to help lift janitors out of poverty and help companies remain competitive. When over 5,000 janitors in Houston formed a union in late 2005 to cap one of the largest successful organizing drives by private sector workers ever in the U.S. South, they united their strength with SEIU janitors in nearly 30 other major cities who work for the same national cleaning contractors — often in buildings owned by the same large, national real estate companies. The Houston janitors will soon begin negotiating improvement in a single, “master” agreement; in other cities, this has allowed janitors to win health care and pay increases and has ended a “race to the bottom” in which companies vie for contracts by paying janitors as little as possible – instead of competing on issues of quality, efficiency, and innovation.

SEIU is transforming the U.S. private security industry by partnering with unions overseas and community allies determined to hold companies accountable on safety and training standards. Employers such as Sweden-based Securitas have now agreed to respect U.S. security officers’ freedom to form a union and signaled their willingness to work with SEIU to create good jobs with training. Security officers are also partnering with civil rights organizations, community groups and churches to fight for better wages, affordable health care, and opportunity for career growth for a largely African-American workforce. SEIU is the largest union of security officers in the country, representing over 50,000 officers who work in the public and private sector.

SEIU is the largest union of long-term care workers in the United States. Providing vital services in both facility and private home settings for our nation’s seniors and the disabled, 440,000 home care- and 160,000 nursing home workers are also winning improvements in wages and benefits. In April 2005, in one of the largest union election victories ever, 41,000 home care workers in Michigan voted to unite with SEIU, and joined a national movement of home-based caregivers in California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois New York and elsewhere. SEIU nursing home workers have increased funding for staffing and other improvements through coordinated outreach to employers, campaigns to hold irresponsible providers to higher standards, and political action to address budget and care crises.

SEIU is setting a new standard for quality child care services nationwide. When 49,000 Illinois family child care providers joined together in SEIU and won a contract including training incentives, health benefits, and pay increases, they raised the bar for quality child care services across the country. Together in SEIU, family child care providers are helping to stabilize the child care workforce by making child care a secure profession, improve funding for child care and early education, and expand parents’ access to affordable, quality care. SEIU is the largest union of child care workers in America, representing more than 200,000 people who work in child care and early education.

SEIU is the second largest union of public service employees. SEIU members are fighting for fair and stable funding to ensure that Americans have the quality, reliable public services they need and led victorious public campaigns across the map in 2005. In New Hampshire and California, workers beat back attacks on retirement security, and helped pass a landmark bill in Maryland that would ensure profitable corporations, like Wal-Mart, pay their fair share of their employee’s healthcare. SEIU members also helped raise $11.8 billion for public services in 15 states, including a pair of successful ballot initiatives that raised California revenues to maintain emergency centers in Los Angeles and Alameda Counties.

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