Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a labor union representing almost 1.9 million workers in over 100 occupations in the United States and Canada. SEIU is focused on organizing workers in three sectors: healthcare (over half of members work in the healthcare field), including hospital, home care and nursing home workers; public services (government employees, including law enforcement); and property services (including janitors, security guards 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's international headquarters is located in Washington, D.C. and it is one of the largest unions in the country. The union is known for its strong support for Democratic candidates. It spent $28 million supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. In 2012, SEIU was the top outside spender on Democratic campaigns, reporting almost $70 million of campaign donations, television ads and get-out-the-vote efforts in support of President Obama and other Democrats. SEIU is a major supporter of the Affordable Care Act and of increased minimum wage laws, including wage increases for fast food workers. The union is the primary backer of the Fight for $15.


The SEIU was founded on April 23, 1921 in Chicago as the Building Service Employees International Union (BSEIU); its first members were janitors, elevator operators, and window washers. The union's membership increased significantly with a 1934 strike in New York City's Garment District. In order to reflect its increasingly diversified membership, in 1968 the union renamed itself Service Employees International Union. In 1980 through 1984, most of the SEIU's growth came from mergers with four other unions, including the International Jewelry Workers Union and the Drug, Hospital, and Health Care Employees Union. In 1995, SEIU President John Sweeney was elected president of the AFL–CIO, the main confederation of labor unions in the United States. 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 and the SEIU became the largest union in the AFL-CIO. In 2003, SEIU was a founding member of the New Unity Partnership, an organization of unions that pushed for 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 electoral politics, instead of encouraging organizing in the face of decreasing union membership. These differences boiled over on the eve of the 2005 AFL-CIO convention, as the SEIU and Teamsters announced that they were disaffiliating from the AFL-CIO. The Change to Win Federation held its founding convention in September 2005, where SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger was announced as the organization's chair. In the following decade, several Change to Win members disaffiliated and re-joined the AFL-CIO, leaving SEIU, the Teamsters, and the United Farm Workers as the remaining members. The SEIU's decision to break away from the AFL-CIO is considered controversial by some labor experts. After the disaffiliation, the SEIU continued to experience significant growth in membership. Stern stepped down as president of SEIU in 2010, and was replaced by Mary Kay Henry, a long-time organizer and staff member at the union, and its first female president.

Presidents of SEIU

* William Quesse (1921–1927) * Oscar Nelson (1927) * Jerry Horan (1927–1937) * George Scalise (1937–1940) * William McFetridge (1940–1960) * David Sullivan (1960–1971) * George Hardy (1971–1980) * John Sweeney (1980–1995; former president of the AFL–CIO) * Richard Cordtz (1995–1996) * Andy Stern (1996–2010) * Mary Kay Henry (2010–present)

Organizing and political activities

Under the Stern and Henry presidencies, SEIU has organized workers in a number of industries. In some cases, these organizing drives have been built around nationwide campaigns, like the earlier Justice for Janitors campaign. SEIU has organized large numbers of home care attendants in Oregon, Missouri, and Wisconsin, among other states, in some cases working together with other unions. Since 2004, the union has seen success organizing workers in Texas, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona in particular. 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. 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. 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. 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." SEIU has played a major role in the fast food worker strikes from 2012–2014 and has contributed more than $15 million to workers' centers and community organizations to organize them. The motto for the campaign is "$15 and a union," reflecting the call to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and the unionization of fast food workers. SEIU has recently begun supporting lawsuits filed by fast food workers to the National Labor Relations Board, calling for McDonald's to be named a joint employer of the restaurants run by its franchisees, a move which would make it substantially easier to unionize McDonald's employees. Adjunct faculty at colleges and universities have been part of a similar campaign. In June 2004, SEIU launched a non-union-member affiliate group called Purple Ocean as a mechanism to mobilize non-SEIU members in support of the union's agenda. Purple Ocean members do not have voting rights within the SEIU. In November 2009, the SEIU and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) competed for the right to represent 10,000 home health-care workers in Fresno, California. After the SEIU won the right to represent the workers, the NUHW charged the SEIU with changing ballots and threatening to report a worker to immigration officials. The NUHW asked that the election be invalidated and a new one ordered due to what it said was evidence of intimidation. In 2012, SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers and AFSCME agreed on a politics-only alliance for the 2012 national election campaign. In 2016, AFSCME and SEIU announced an extension of that agreement, leading to speculation about a possible future merger. In July 2020, three SEIU members, Felix Thomson, Julia Wallace, and Mark Ostapiak, published an article in the media and organizing forum ''Labor Notes'' describing their participation in a campaign to disaffiliate police unions from the SEIU. This was part of a campaign of organizers attempting to remove police unions from the broader labor movement, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and riots that took place in May and June of the same year.


In 2009, the union launched a nationwide campaign against Sodexo, criticizing the company's labor standards. The union's strategy, which was ultimately unsuccessful, involved organizing student groups to pressure administrators at universities to kick Sodexo out of school cafeterias unless the company permitted unionization. Sodexo USA filed a civil lawsuit against SEIU under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act on March 17, 2011. In the complaint, Sodexo alleged that SEIU engaged in blackmail, vandalism, trespassing, harassment, and lobbying law violations, referring to the "Clean Up Sodexo" campaign as "old-fashioned, strongarm tactics" and SEIU behavior as "egregious" and "illegal." During the trial, it was revealed that in 1988, the SEIU had co-written a manual detailing how "outside pressure can involve jeopardizing relationships between the employer and lenders, investors, stockholders, customers, clients, patients, tenants, politicians, or others on whom the employer depends for funds." Tactics recommended include references to blackmail and extortion, accusations of racism and sexism, targeting the homes and neighborhoods of business leaders for demonstrations, and also explicitly stated that at times it is necessary to "disobey the law." Following the court discovery of this document, a settlement was reached where Sodexo withdrew the lawsuit and SEIU terminated its public campaign focused on Sodexo.

Political donations

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1990 the SEIU has been the nation's top organization contributing to federal campaigns, donating $232,694,670, 99% of which went to Democrats. Over that same period, the National Education Association was the second highest organizational political donor, contributing $96,992,506, 97% of which went to Democrats. Since 1998, the SEIU has spent $19,676,660 in additional money on lobbying.

Local unions

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

SEIU's largest local union is 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. With a membership of roughly 300,000, it claims to be the largest local union in the world. It represents workers in various parts of New York state, chiefly in New York City, Syracuse, and Buffalo, with additional members located in and around the Canton-Potsdam and Plattsburgh areas of northern New York, as well as Maryland, Washington, D.C., Florida, and Massachusetts.

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. On January 27, 2009, SEIU placed UHW West under trusteeship and dismissed 70 of the local's executives, including president Sal Rosselli. Rosselli and other ousted leaders reformed under the name National Union of Healthcare Workers and pushed for UHW West members at 60 facilities to vote to decertify SEIU. As of 2012, NUHW only represents 6 former SEIU-UHW facilities. In early 2013, NUHW affiliated with the California Nurses Association. Also, in early 2013, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered that the results of the 2010 Kaiser Permanente union election (a vote by nearly 45,000 Kaiser-Permanente employees choosing between NUHW and SEIU-UHW) be overturned based on evidence of collusion between SEIU-UHW and the employer. The second election was won be SEIU-UHW, by a vote of 18,844 to 13,101.

United Long Term Care Workers

United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW) is the second largest SEIU local and the second largest union local in the United States. It represents 180,000 caregivers for seniors and people with disabilities in California. The organization aids those requiring long term care by supporting the workers providing the care, advocating for seniors and people with disabilities, educating the public about the importance of providing care for this population, and participating in politics relative to providing long term care. By making the general public more aware and striving to reform politics, ULTCW are able to better serve those whom they are assisting. ULTCW organization serves various counties throughout California, ranging from Napa to San Bernardino. The union has departments in education, executive, strategic partnerships, member services, member strength, organizing, operations, and public affairs. It is divided into six sub-regions by geography and work type. The union provides services such as free classes, telephone hotlines to answer questions regarding the union, and personalized match-ups between care givers and people in need of help to its members. It has been involved in political campaigns including Fight for a Fair Economy, Courage to Care, and many others.

Local 32BJ

SEIU 32BJ is a politically outspoken building services local based in New York. 32BJ represents over 170,000 property service workers, and is part of SEIU Justice for Janitors, Stand for Security and Multi Service Workers campaigns. In 2010, SEIU 32BJ's Thomas Shortman Training Fund was awarded a $2.8 million grant by the Department of Labor, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aiming to create jobs in expanding green industries over the following two years. The program (1,000 Green Supers) was intended to help train 2,200 New York City building superintendents in energy efficiency.

Local 87

One of the first SEIU locals was Local 87, a local union that traces its origins back to the 1920s, when it was known as Local 9 of the Building Service Employees International Union (BSEIU). It was originally led by George Hardy. Around 700 janitorial members of the local launched a walk-off on March 24, 2021, striking in favor of workplace safety measures including "sexual harassment safeguards", of fair pay, and of seniority rights. The strike follows 8 months of contract negotiations, 27 deaths to COVID-19 among union members, and 3000 members laid off since the start of the pandemic.

Local 99

On January 19, 1949 gardeners and custodians workers form Local 99 as LAUSD employees.

Local 721

SEIU Local 721 is Los Angeles County's largest employee union, representing 57,000 county employees in nursing, social work, and clerical roles.

Local 1000

SEIU Local 1000 (Union of California State Workers) is affiliated with the California State Employees Association (CSEA) with one other union, the California State University Employees Union, SEIU Local 2579, a non-union affiliate of managers, confidential and supervisory employees who are excluded from collective bargaining, and an affiliate of retired state employees. Yvonne Walker has been president since 2008. SEIU Local 1000 represents 95000 State Government Employees, many of whom are office and administrative workers, librarians, engineers and nurses. 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 (excluding uniformed guards), information technology workers, nurses and administrative staff. In ''Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000'', the U.S. Supreme Court found Local 1000 had used illegal fundraising during the 2005 California Special Election.

National Association of Government Employees (NAGE)

The National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) represents tens of thousands of state, federal, and municipal government employees including nurses, EMS professionals, firefighters, police and correctional officers, and military air technicians.

Local 1 Canada

The largest local in Canada is SEIU Local 1 Canada. It represents over 50,000 health care and community services workers in Ontario and British Columbia. Its members work in hospitals, home care, nursing and retirement homes and community services.


According to SEIU's Department of Labor records since 2005 (when membership classifications were first reported) about 2% of the union's membership are considered retirees, with eligibility to vote in the union. SEIU contracts also cover some non-members, known as agency fee payers, which since 2005 have numbered comparatively about one tenth of the size of the union's membership. As of 2014 this accounts for about 35,000 retirees and about 180,000 non-members paying agency fees, compared to about 1.8 million regular members.

Archival and historical materials

The official repository of SEIU is the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit. The Reuther Library, the largest labor archives in North America, holds the most complete collection of primary source materials regarding SEIU with over 1,000 linear square feet of the union's records covering 105 years of history (1905-2010). The SEIU Collections include a variety of organizational, executive, photographic, and publicity materials along with many other additional record types. The relationship between SEIU and the Reuther Library began officially in 1992 and the collections have since been maintained by a dedicated SEIU Archivist on staff at the archives. Notable collections include SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records, the District 925 Records, and materials documenting the Justice for Janitors campaign from SEIU's numerous local affiliates. Additional archival collections can be found at the Special Collections Library of the University of Washington (Building Service Employees' International Union, Local 6 Records and Service Employees International Union, Local 120 Records). The records of SEIU's United Service Workers West, including the Justice for Janitors campaign are held by the UCLA Library Department of Special Collections.

See also

* Leon J. Davis * 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East * SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today


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
George E. Flood Papers
1933-1960. .25 cubic feet (1 box).

External links

SEIU Collections at the Walter P. Reuther Library
at Wayne State University
SEIU archives at UCLA Library

Labor Archives and Research Center
{{Authority control Category:Change to Win Federation Category:Canadian Labour Congress Category:Dupont Circle Category:Organizations based in Washington, D.C. Category:Trade unions established in 1921 Category:Healthcare trade unions in the United States