The SEIU

There is a lot of coverage about the SEIU recently in the press – from its endorsement of Labor Secretary Solis to its association with Illinois Gov. Blogovich.  So, I thought that I would highlight a little bit about this union.  And in the future, I’ll post about the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters whenever they do something newsworthy.

The Service Employees International Union began as the Business Services Employees Union (BSEU) in the 1920s in Chicago where janitors, elevator operators, and window washers were its first members.  After a series of mergers with other industries, the SEIU officially changed its name in 1968.  Since then, it has acquired the International Jewellery Workers Union and the Drug, Hospital, and Health Care Employees Union.

In 2003 the SEIU committed itself to organizing working (instead of focusing on election politics) due to the decreasing number of union members and union supporters.  On the eve of the 2005 the AFL-CIO convention, the SEIU along with its Change to Win partners (Teamsters and UFCW, Unite Here, the Laberors, the Carpenters, and the United Farm Workers) announced they were disaffiliating from the ALF-CIO. 

In the past decade, the SEIU has organized over 1.5 million employees, making it the largest and fastest growing union in North America.  Today, the SEIU focuses on the following industries:  health care, including hospitals, nursing, nursing homes, and home care; property services including building cleaning and security; child care services; as well as public employees.   

The SEIU spent an estimated $85 million to get Obama elected, and according to the Wall Street Journal, the SEIU has set aside $10 million and could spend as much as $50 million for “legislation championed by the organization, including an economic-recovery package, a revamped health-care system, and a controversial union-organizing bill [Employee Free Choice Act].  But, according to the Denver Post, the SEIU has already far surpassed that $50 million figure by earmarking another $85 million in an effort to pass EFCA. 

This new effort to pass EFCA is dubbed Change That Works and is supposedly a massive, grassroots movement in 35 different states.  As a part of the media to launch the new campaign, SEIU’s President, Andy Stern, was adamant that passing EFCA would be a priority for Obama.

Additional media exposure – albeit the kind the SEIU does not want – came about when it was revealed that Andy Stern met with Rod Blagojevich last fall around the time that federal prosecutors allege the governor was discussing ways to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama for a lucrative union position.  The SEIU was Blagojevich’s biggest campaign contributor, contributing $1.8 million for his two campaigns.  In return, Blagojevich signed an executive order enabling SEIU to organize tens of thousands of workers who care for people in their homes and whose pay is subsidized by Illinois.  The federal complaint alleges that one of Blagojevich’s plans was to appoint a labor-friendly candidate to the vacated Illinois Senate seat in exchange for a $300,000 per year position at Change to Win.  The Daily Kos blog does an excellent job of following this as it develops.

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