SEIU members have provided a voice for the voiceless for ninety years. From our beginnings as one of the country’s first racially integrated unions to our historic support for marriage equality in 2004 to our work to win justice for immigrants, SEIU has a long history of standing up and speaking out for equality. “There’s a motto we have in the labor movement: ‘An Injury to One is An Injury to All,'” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. “Across this country, right-wing Republican politicians are seeking to divide us with attacks on immigrants, the middle class, women’s health, the environment and the LGBT community. We cannot live up to our promise as a nation until we extend equal rights to all,” she added.
SEIU’s history as a force for civil rights began with its founding as one of the first integrated unions. African Americans held leadership roles such as Vice President from the very beginning and AFL founder Sam Gompers even called the janitors union “too diverse”. SEIU’s leadership on civil rights continued as SEIU President David Sullivan marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 despite the refusal of the AFL-CIO to endorse King’s march on Washington.
SEIU 1199 Healthcare Workers East has an especially a proud history of civil rights activism–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it “his favorite union” and he considered himself “a fellow 1199-er.” King suggested to 1199 ” that if all of labor would emulate what you have been doing over the years, our nation would be closer to victory in the fight to eliminate poverty and injustice.”
Women’s rights are civil rights and SEIU members have marched, organized, and lobbied elected officials to create a better country for working women. A majority of SEIU’s members are women and many work in so-called “pink collar” professions such as nursing, social work, and childcare. And in 2008, Worker’s United–which descended from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union–affiliated with SEIU. Along the way, SEIU has consistently advocated for improved access to childcare, funding for women’s health, and other policies that make a difference in the lives of women across the country.
SEIU members have also been on the forefront of winning equality for LGBT Americans. SEIU was the first international union to endorse marriage equality, SEIU members continue to win protections and equal benefits for LGBT workers and their families, and SEIU recently become one of the few employers in the country to ensure our employee healthcare plan protects against gender identity-based discrimination and covers gender reassignment surgery. And in 2010, SEIU elected our first openly gay international president. Last month, (May 2012) SEIU passed a resolution at its annual national convention, to support transgender workers during contract negotiations. The resolution states that SEIU local groups and members will bargain for transgender-inclusive heath care coverage as part of their contract negotiations with businesses and employers. The diversity of our union is a source of strength instead of a cause of division. As SEIU embarks on its next ninety years, we will continue to speak up and demand justice and equality for all.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota President Julie Schnell and Carol Nieters, executive director of SEIU Local 284 have both recorded well-wishes for this year’s annual PRIDE celebrants in Minneapolis.5>