Navigation Menu+

Service Employees International Union

SEIU

1800 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036

Membership

icon_members

2.1 million members

1.1 million members in healthcare

225,000 members in property services

1 million + members in public services

 

Affiliations

icon_affiliations

BlueGreen Alliance

 

 

Structure

icon_structureThere are more than 150 SEIU local union affiliates and more than 15 state councils across North America.

Each local affiliate is a chartered branch that carries forth the mission and goals of the International Union while representing the specific interests of locally based memberships.

SEIU locals have their own officers, governing bodies, constitutions and bylaws. Local union members bargain with employers to produce collective bargaining agreements that set workplace rules, benefits and wages.

State councils represent all SEIU locals in a particular state. These councils work to coordinate and unify the locals’ programs and campaigns, such as those that are legislative and political in nature, to meet members’ shared goals.

When former SEIU President Andy Stern pulled away from the AFL-CIO and formed Change to Win, SEIU became more centralized. An insider writes that “thanks to centralization, SEIU has been able to pool resources and staff and pour them into massive organizing campaigns that focus on whole companies and entire markets rather than individual worksites.”

 

Industries

Health Care Workers: nurses, LPNs, doctors, lab technicians, nursing home workers, and home care workers

Property Service Workers: janitors, security officers, superintendents, maintenance workers, window cleaners, and doormen and women

Public Service Workers: state government workers, public school employees, bus drivers, and child-care providers

 

Key Officers

seiu_marykayhenryMary Kay Henry, International President

Mary Kay Henry serves as International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Henry has devoted her life to helping North America’s workers form unions and strengthen their voice at work about the quality of the goods and services they provide, and the quality of care they are able to deliver.

Henry was elected to SEIU’s International Executive Board in 1996, and she became an International Executive Vice President in 2004. In her role as International Executive Vice President, Henry served as the union’s chief healthcare strategist and led efforts to build a stronger voice for healthcare workers and enact historic healthcare reforms. More than a million healthcare workers nationwide, including registered nurses, technicians, doctors, and hospital and clinic workers are now united in SEIU Healthcare.  In 2010, Henry was unanimously elected International President and became the first woman to lead SEIU.

seiu_mikefishmanMike Fishman, International Secretary Treasurer

Mike Fishman is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, a position to which he was elected after serving more thirteen years as the President of SEIU Local 32BJ.

Mike, a union leader for more than 30 years, was elected four times as President of 32BJ. According to Crain’s New York Business Magazine, Fishman “methodically built [32BJ] into of the city’s fastest-growing and most effective unions,” and is widely credited with revitalizing the union through his dedication to a member-driven agenda which prioritizes higher industry standards and membership growth.

Fishman led large-scale organizing drives that more than doubled 32BJ’s membership. Among those who joined the union through organizing campaigns under Mike’s leadership are: 10,000 security officers in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.; 8,000 office cleaners in New Jersey; and 3,000 office cleaners in northern Virginia.

In late 2011, Mike led contract negotiations for 60,000 office-building workers in seven states. Despite the tough economy, the union won yearly increases in compensation and continued or improved health care coverage.

In 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Mr. Fishman to the New York City Regional Economic Development Council. Mike has also received numerous honors, including from the National Action Network and Alianza Dominica. In 2006, New York Magazine named Mike to the “Power Dozen” list of the most influential New Yorkers in politics.

The grandson of a union carpenter who taught him the trade, Mike’s career as a labor activist began when he joined the carpenters’ union. After nearly 20 years in that union, during which he served as Director of Organizing, Mike joined SEIU in 1996 as Assistant to the President and then Chief of Staff.

seiu_kirkadamsKirk Adams, International Executive Vice President

Kirk Adams is International Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union and leads the work of SEIU Healthcare, which represents more than one million nurses, doctors and healthcare workers across North America.

A long-time organizer and political activist, Adams began organizing workers with the United Labor Unions in 1980, which in 1984 affiliated with SEIU. In 1987, Adams’ work in Los Angeles led to the first union victory for consumer-directed home care workers in the country and 72,000 home care workers won a voice on the job.

In 1989, Adams left SEIU to run Ann Richards’ successful gubernatorial campaign and served as her political director until 1994. He returned to organizing for the union when Richards left office and in 1997 served as southern regional director and later organizing director for the AFL-CIO.

Adams was tapped to serve as Chief of Staff of SEIU in 2000 and in 2007 became Division Director of SEIU Healthcare, playing a critical role in the passage of healthcare reform. Adams once again served as Chief of Staff once Mary Kay Henry was elected International President in 2010 before resuming his previous position as Division Director of SEIU Healthcare later that year. Adams was elected in September 2011 to serve as International Executive Vice President of SEIU after serving as an International Vice President of SEIU’s Executive Board.

seiu_geraldhudsonGerald Hudson, International Executive Vice President

Hudson, who has served as Executive Vice President of SEIU since June 2004, leads the union’s political program–ensuring that SEIU members and all workers have a strong voice to hold politicians accountable and elect candidates at all levels who stand with working families.

Elected as executive vice president for the former-District 1199 in 1989, Hudson spent more than a dozen years supervising 1199 New York’s political action, education, publications, and cultural affairs departments. During his tenure with 1199NY, Hudson coordinated the merger of the 30,000-member Local 144 into SEIU/1199. He also founded the 1199 School for Social Change – a former alternative school in the Bronx – and served as a trustee of the Local 1199 Training and Upgrading Fund, Home Care Workers Benefit Fund, and Michelson Education Fund.

In 1996, Hudson served as political director of the New York state Democratic Party and helped lead the union’s campaigns in support of Jesse Jackson’s presidential efforts in New York and the successful New York City mayoral campaign of David Dinkins. He also played an instrumental role in the election of H. Carl McCall, the first African American controller in New York State.

Hudson participated in the first-ever U.S. labor delegation to the United Nations’ climate change meeting in Bali in 2007. He served on the advisory board of the Apollo Alliance prior to its merger with BlueGreen Alliance, and now serves on the BGA board of directors. He’s also served on the board for Redefining Progress, the nation’s leading public policy think tank dedicated to developing innovative public policies that balance economic well-being, environmental preservation, and social justice.

Recently honored by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations for his extraordinary leadership, Hudson continues to have wide-ranging impact on the fight to improve the lives of working families and their communities.

seiu_eileenkirlinEileen Kirlin, International Executive Vice President

Eileen Kirlin is an International Executive Vice President at SEIU and leads its Public Services Division. Elected in 2010, Kirlin has more than 30 years of leadership experience in the labor movement.

Kirlin headed SEIU’s work to bring 83,000 family child care providers with the union, which has helped raise the quality of child care, stabilized the child care workforce and expanded access for working families. Working side by side with advocates, SEIU providers have made child care more affordable for more families and expanded access to nutritious meals.

In another breakthrough victory, Kirlin led the effort to unite more than 55,000 North Carolina state employees into SEIU. The State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) joined SEIU in 2008.

Prior to joining SEIU’s leadership, Kirlin was a leader in the Communications Workers of America where she helped to lead a successful campaign that brought 35,000 New Jersey state employees into the union. She began her career as a social worker in Philadelphia working for the welfare department where she rose from a rank-and-file union member to become Treasurer of SEIU Local 668.

Valarie Long, International Executive Vice President

In January 2012, Valarie Long was elected Executive Vice President of SEIU by the union’s International Executive Board. Prior to being elected Executive Vice President, Long served as a leader at two SEIU locals and as an International Vice President. Valarie leads the union’s Property Services division, representing more than 400,000 janitors, security guards and maintenance workers across the United States and Canada.

Valarie’s first organizing campaign was her own worksite. While living in Columbus, Ohio and working for the state in data entry, she helped her co-workers form a union and quickly rose from rank-and-file leader to become a full-time union organizer. She soon joined SEIU District 925 on the University of Cincinnati campaign and became part of the national movement to address issues of pay inequality, family and medical leave — so called “women’s issues” — as union issues by building power in the workplace.

Before being elected by her peers to serve as Executive Vice President of the largest and fastest growing union in North America, she was elected president of SEIU Local 82 and vice president of SEIU Local 32BJ. She also served as assistant to the president for staff development, SEIU organizing director and SEIU deputy director of education.

Under her leadership, the union’s national campaign to organize security guards achieved unprecedented gains for more than 25,000 workers in nine major cities. Beyond her role as director of the Property Services Division, Valarie has worked with SEIU locals across every division and led SEIU’s efforts, in coalition with UNI (the Property Service Global Union), to successfully reach a historic global agreement with G4S/Wackenhut – one of the largest security providers in the world. Long remains active organizing workers across the globe, currently serving as a Delegate and Steering Committee member of UNI’s Property Service Section.

 

Green Contacts

icon_greencontact

Gerald Hudson (see bio above and Appendix 2)

For more information or to arrange an interviews with Gerry, contact the Media Department at 202-730-7162 e-mail media@seiu.org.

icon_greencontact

James Barry is the Manager of Program Development at the SEIU Local 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund (TSTF). He manages a $2.8 million dollar ARRA grant for the 1000 Green Supers Program. James joined the Fund in 2003 and soon launched Local 32BJ’s first green building course in collaboration with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Steven Winter Associates, Inc. Over the next several years he launched a half dozen different green and energy efficiency classes for 32BJ members. James has over 15 years of experience in adult education and workforce training and has helped a variety of populations to re-enter the workforce.

To Contact James:

James Barry

Thomas Shortman Training Fund 101 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10013-1991 (212) 388-3220

icon_greencontact

Jon Barton has worked in the labor movement for over 25 years. Most of those years have been with SEIU serving various positions including his current role as Deputy Director of SEIU’s Property Services Division. In addition to SEIU, he served as organizing director for the LA County Federation of Labor and the ED for AFSCME Council 36. SEIU’s Property Services Division primarily represents and organizes workers employed as janitors, security officers and, multi-service workers. Commercial Real Estate is a big focus of their work as it is a major client base for the contractors employing our members. Buildings account for 40% of emissions with commercial real estate counting for a large portion. SEIU members operate, maintain and clean these buildings, and thus comes their growing interest in addressing issues related to climate change.

Contact:

jon.barton@seiu.org

 

Sustainability Profile

icon_greenprofile

The SEIU has expressed concern over the effects of climate change and other environmental hazards on its workers. The union addresses these concerns by educating its members and equipping them to include green provisions in their contract bargaining agreements. Its green provisions page warns, “SEIU members who work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities are exposed daily to a wide range of environmental hazards. From mercury-containing products, to toxic cleaning supplies, to dioxin-containing plastics, these hazards pose problems for employees and patients alike. These items can cause contamination and are potentially harmful to their users in the industry.” Acknowledging that climate change is a serious “environmental crisis” that will affect millions of its workers, SEIU has taken an active stance on climate change by encouraging its members to use their bargaining power to be a part of the solution.

The SEIU provides ready-made CBA language for multiple “green contract provisions.” Some of these green contract provisions have been adopted, others are in proposal stage, and yet others are currently in idea phase. The most successful bargaining groups within the union appear to be in the healthcare sector. SEIU healthcare workers have successfully negotiated over asbestos removal, toxic cleaning products and other environmental issues.

Behind many of the aforementioned contract negotiations are labor-management committees designed to routinely address environmental and health and safety issues. The formation of these committees have become commonplace in bargaining for green contract provisions.  For example, the SEIU California Public Sector Local 1000 proposed a “Joint Labor Management Committee on Waste Minimization” and “Joint Labor Management Committee on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction” in its 2008 bargaining.  (For a model of this bargaining agreement language, see appendixes 1, 2, and 3).

SEIU addresses the connections between all of its members and the environment even though the effects of environmental degradation might not yet be apparent within some of its represented industries .  At the 2008 SEIU Convention in Puerto Rico, the union adopted the SEIU Resolution on Jobs and the Environment.  SEIU determined that “healthcare, public service, and property service workers have an opportunity to make a direct contribution to promoting quality green jobs by working with management to make changes that address climate change and environmental health.” The following text is excerpted from the resolution:

SEIU members recognize that we cannot build a more just and humane society without prompt and effective action on the environment. We stand ready to do our part to address the global climate crisis, including supporting emission reduction targets based on sound science.

SEIU and its local unions will involve members in developing and achieving new goals for contract negotiations and union-management partnerships that will improve jobs and address climate change. These goals will require public transportation benefits, adoption of more energy efficient equipment, reduced use and improved disposal of hazardous substances, schedule changes (such as day cleaning that will reduce energy use), and more.

SEIU will strongly support and press for policies that promote major new investment in quality “green jobs,” putting hundreds of thousands to work producing more energy efficient buildings, appliances, vehicles, and other technology, and making far more use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. These jobs should be quality, union jobs that pay enough to support families.

As health care providers, we will advocate for the elimination of toxins in our workplaces and the appropriate disposal of hazardous medical wastes. We will also advocate for cleaner energy production to reduce the incidence of asthma and other health problems in our communities.

As property service workers, we will support increased development of and training for green building maintenance practices. We will also advocate for job development that will ensure that these practices are effective.

As childcare providers and homecare workers whose workplaces are homes, we will redouble our efforts to make our homes more energy efficient. SEIU will pilot programs to reduce the energy bills and the carbon footprint, or amount of greenhouse gases given off, for member homes that are also workplaces.

We will work for training and transition programs and other protections for workers whose jobs are affected or eliminated by efforts to stem climate change.

We will work closely with unions, environmental groups, community organizations, elected officials, and other allies around the world to address this crisis in a way that improves the quality of life for working people and provides protections for workers and their communities.

Since this resolution, the 4,000 plus office building janitors in the Minneapolis Saint Paul area won a major victory. In February 2009, the janitors “made significant progress with one of their employers on important changes to transition to Day Shift and Green Cleaning.” Day-shift cleaning is a growing trend in the cleaning industry. According to SEIU Local 26, “it can reduce energy use by up to 8%, and leads to better client satisfaction with a stable, well-trained cleaning staff.”

The SEIU is a leader in green initiatives and has benefited from government collaborations. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor announced “$7.4 million in green jobs training grants to SEIU Local 32BJ and H-Cap, a national partnership of SEIU healthcare unions and major employers. These two grants are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and provided essential green training to help 5,200 Americans get jobs in expanding green industries over following two years.” Part of this grant ($2.8 million) went to the Thomas Shortman Training Fund to expand green buildings training in NYC.  The Fund launched the “1,000 Green Supers” program to equip superintendents in New York City with energy efficiency practices. This program purportedly helps “to ensure that gains made through retrofits are fully realized by a well-trained property services workforce.”  Another grant was allotted to the Healthcare Career Advancement Program to “create a new career ladder for 3000 entry level environmental service workers in Los Angeles, Seattle, NYC, and the Baltimore/DC corridor.”

SEIU is also one of the few unions to endorse scientific targets for carbon reductions. In 2009, the union issued a joint statement with LIUNA affirming Obama’s commitment to 17 percent carbon emissions reduction. The unions also demanded a fair transition to a low-carbon economy that does not place the burden on the shoulders of US workers and workers around the world. In the words of Gerry Hudson, International Executive Vice President of SEIU, “it is our duty to ensure that legislation develops a cap-and-trade system that connects environmental justice to economic justice in a way that supports communities across America and creates good, green jobs.”

SEIU is known for its support of progressive movements, and the environmental movement is no exception. The union accurately connects the dots between climate change, the economy, and effects of inadequate environmental policies on its workers.  In many ways, the SEIU is several steps beyond other unions in handling issues of sustainability.

 

Green Employment Prospects

icon_greenemployer

SEIU notes, “recycling programs obviously benefit the environment.  Such programs could also benefit SEIU members by allowing for increased hours on a single shift. Recycling creates extra hours of work in two ways: either by needing to separate recyclable materials or by emptying twice as many trash bins. To reduce the cost to employers of increased payment to workers for time spent on recycling, SEIU and employers could partner to improve government incentives to businesses to implement large-scale recycling programs.”

Additional Comments or Analysis

icon_comment

SEIU is transforming the U.S. private security industry by partnering with unions overseas. This means that it is capable of reaching a global audience on this worldwide issue of environmental protection and sustainability.

Appendixes

Appendix 1: Green Cleaning CBA

Green Cleaning Collective Bargaining Agreement Language

The following CBA language on transportation was provided by the SEIU California Public Sector Local 1000. It is being proposed in 2008 bargaining.

“The State is committed to providing a safe and healthy work place for State employees and to work practices and the use of materials that contribute to a healthy and sustainable ecological environment.   The Union supports these goals and will cooperate with the State’s efforts in this regards.

Green chemicals and work materials: Where such materials may be obtained without excessive added cost, the State will purchase tools, appliances, electronic and biological devices, machinery, infrastructural systems, supplies and materials whose use or eventual disposal will not produce adverse effects for a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.”

 

Appendix 2: Contract Language for Healthier Health Care

Model Contract Language for Healthier Health Care

SEIU locals have used their bargaining power to address workplace environmental hazards that affect employees and patients.  SEIU healthcare workers have successfully also negotiated over asbestos removal, toxic cleaning products and other environmental issues. The broadest approach to this is through labor-management committees designed to routinely address environmental and health and safety issues. Some contract language examples:

Health and Safety Committee at Saint Petersburg General Hospital:

Establishment and Scope of [Health and Safety] Committee: The parties agree that matters related to safety and health issues may arise from time to time that may be appropriate for discussion between management representatives and Employees.  The parties, agree, therefore, to create a Safety and Health Committee, which may consider and discuss safety and health issues, including those that have been brought to the attention of the Hospital Safety Officer but have not been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, such as, without limitation: (a) safety initiatives; (b) changes to Hospital policies and procedures which would impact the safety and health of Employees, patients and visitors; (c)  Employee injury trends; (d) Employee safety awareness and training; and (e) equipment needs impacting the safety and health of Employees, patients and visitors.  The Committee shall not discuss disciplinary matters, pending grievances, or any issues related to contract negotiations.  Disputes arising under this sub-section shall not be subject to the grievance and arbitration provisions of this Agreement.

–St. Petersburg General Hospital and SEIU Florida Healthcare Union

Health and Safety Committee at Jackson Memorial Hospital:

The purpose of the committee is to identify and investigate health and safety hazards and make recommendations on preventive measures.  Additionally, the committee will assist in monitoring all ongoing health and safety programs to assure their effectiveness in preventing hazardous working conditions.  Investigation and monitoring may include work site inspections as requested by the Union. The committee shall have the authority to make recommendations to correct health and safety hazards. The committee may research and make recommendations for safer substitutes or modifications to the new equipment, medical treatments and/or processes to the Product Review Analysis Committee. The Employer shall provide the Committee on a quarterly basis with data containing the vital information on all work related injuries and illnesses, including but not limited to injury-on-duty quarterly reports, which will include needle stick and sharps injuries…

The committee shall be composed of eighteen (18) members. Nine (9) may be designated by the Employer. Nine (9) may be designated by the Union, with no more than one (1) per patient care unit. The Committee will be co-chaired by the Union and Management.

The committee shall meet at least monthly and at other times when either side feels that there is a health and safety issue that requires immediate attention from the Committee.–Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1991 and Jackson Memorial Hospital Saint Mary’s Medical Center Environmental Hazards Provisions:

C. Environmental Hazards

  1. Asbestos – The Employer will comply [with] all regulations regarding the handling and removal of identified friable asbestos. The Employer will post all required notices informing employees of the handling and removal activities.
  2. Toxic Cleaning Products – Non-toxic cleaning products shall be used in all areas in which nurses work.
  3. Mold and Mildew – A plan for correcting mold and mildew problems will be provided to the Union within 30 days of discovery of mold and mildew.

–SEIU, Florida Healthcare Union and St. Mary’s Medical Center, RN Contract (May 1, 2007 – October 31, 2010)

Hazard Communication Standards at Jackson Memorial Hospital:

The Employer will inform the Union as soon as possible of the planned implementation of any new equipment, medical treatment and/or processes. Employees who are affected by any new equipment, medical treatment and/or processes shall be provided, prior to implementation, with the strongest feasible protection from hazards including but not limited to engineering controls, personal protective equipment, safer substitutes, and proper education and training.

–Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1991 and Jackson Memorial Hospital

Appendix 3: Environental Labor Management Committee CBA

 

Environmental Labor Management Committee Collective Bargaining Agreement Language

The following CBA language on transportation was provided by the SEIU California Public Sector Local 1000. It is being proposed in 2008 bargaining.

“Joint Labor Management Committee on waste minimization”

The State agrees to establish a Joint Labor Management Committee on Waste Minimization charged with fully implementing Executive Order W-7-91, Assembly Bill 75, Chapter 764, Statutes of 1999 and all other relevant statutes and regulations with the specific charge of working with Departments to find ways to reduce consumption and acquisition of non-recycled materials.  This committee will consist of an equal number of management and Union members and will include participants from the California Integrated Waste Management Board and the Environmental Protection Agency.  Employees appointed to the Committee will serve without loss of compensation.  The State will make resources available for the Committee to do the following:

A. Report on current usage by department and category of materials and energy, current quantities of materials recycled, current purchase of goods made from materials that have not been recycled and current compliance with the requirements of executive orders, statutes and regulations;

B. Formulate goals by department for the reduction of consumption and acquisition of materials and equipment, reduction of purchase of goods made from materials that have not been recycled and compliance with the requirements of executive orders, statutes and regulations.

C. Explore the uses of new substances, devices and technologies that may be important in reducing waste, making special reference to recommendations of internal and external study and work groups on the issues encompassed by the above goals;

D Report on current usage of contractors by department and location in the disposal of waste materials and the acquisition of recycled materials and equipment;

E. Formulate goals to employ workers in state civil service classifications to achieve the goals established above where costs are not excessive and logistics are not unreasonably difficult;

F. Meet with Departmental representatives to develop internal plans for compliance with the goals outlined in B) and E) above;

G Review, approve, monitor and publicly report on the implementation of departmental plans for compliance with these goals;

H. Work with management and the Union to create easily understood guidelines for employees to follow to integrate the practices outlined in the goals formulated as in B) above in regular work procedures and seek methods to publicize the desirability of these practices;

I. Issue periodic reports on current usage as outlined in A) and D) above;

J. Issue periodic revisions of goals for Departments as outlined in F) above.

“Joint Labor Management Committee on greenhouse gas emissions reduction”

The State agrees to establish a Joint Labor Management Committee on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction charged with fully implementing the provisions of AB 32, the guidelines issued by the United Nations Framework Convention’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and all other relevant statutes and regulations with the specific charge of working with Departments to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This committee will consist of an equal number of management and Union members and will include participants from the Air Resources Board, the Energy Commission, Water Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency.  Employees appointed to the Committee will serve without loss of compensation.  The State will make resources available for the Committee to do the following:

A. Report on current emissions by department and activity, current distance traveled by employees in the discharge of their duties and current compliance with the requirements of executive orders, statutes, regulations and the guidelines issued by the United Nations Framework Convention’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;

B. Formulate goals by department for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, reduction of distances traveled by employees in the discharge of their duties, reduction in the use of energy and compliance with the requirements of executive orders, statutes and regulations.

C. Explore the uses of new substances, devices and technologies that may be important in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making special reference to recommendations of internal and external study and work groups on the issues encompassed by the above goals;

D Report on current usage of contractors by department and location in the reduction of greenhouse gas;

E. Formulate goals to employ workers in state civil service classifications to achieve the goals established above where costs are not excessive and logistics are not unreasonably difficult;

F. Meet with Departmental representatives to develop internal plans for compliance with the goals outlined in B) and E) above;

G Review, approve, monitor and publicly report on the implementation of departmental plans for compliance with these goals;

H. Work with management and the Union to create easily understood guidelines for employees to follow to integrate the practices outlined in the goals formulated as in B) above in regular work procedures and seek methods to publicize the desirability of these practices;

I. Issue periodic reports on current emissions as outlined in A) and D) above;

J. Issue periodic revisions of goals for Departments as outlined in F) above.”

 

Appendix 4: Negotiating Green by Gerry Hudson

 

Labor: Negotiate Green to Protect Working People and Their Environment

The crisis facing our planet is one of historic proportions and will require an historically broad coalition to solve.

April 30, 2008  |

AlterNet / By Gerry Hudson

 

Mother Nature does not discriminate, but those willing to break her rules surely do.

For years the ugly relationship between economic injustice and environmental injustice has festered and flourished. While the environmental impacts of the way we produce, consume, and dispose of material goods and energy affect us all, low-income working families and communities get a particularly raw deal: from the landfills and power plants that contaminate air, land, and water in their communities; to limited job options that often require prolonged exposure to toxic substances; to the higher incidence of asthma among their children; to the devastating effects of hurricanes and floods on their budgets and livelihoods.

So what’s a labor union to do? While we see the writing on the wall regarding environmental degradation, we also know that when changes in consumption are required, it is poor consumers who are hit the hardest. It’s the double whammy: these needed changes often lead to higher prices for essential goods and services like food, electricity, and fuel; and they can jeopardize the jobs of lower-wage workers in energy-intensive industries.

Too often we as a society do all stakeholders a disservice by talking about climate change, toxicity, and unsustainable resource depletion as problems to be solved by elite sectors of society in their spare time. Workers and low-income people are not a liability or a line item in the debate. They are a part of the solution.

At SEIU, we stand up for a dual commitment to the environment and society not despite our role as the nation’s fastest growing union, but because of it. With the strength of our 1.9 million members, we have a unique opportunity to be part of the solution and to improve the lives of working people and their children for generations to come.

Right now, SEIU members and leaders from across the country are putting forth concrete ideas for such “green contract provisions” as public transportation benefits to decrease automobile use; replacement of toxic cleaning supplies to protect workers, land, and water; the adoption of more sustainable methods and tools to deliver top-quality healthcare ; and the establishment of labor-management environmental committees for ongoing monitoring of environmental issues in the workplace. Through SEIU’s considerable collective bargaining power and our Negotiate Green initiative, we have the capacity to negotiate for contract provisions that will benefit us, our children, and the environment.

The crisis facing our planet is one of historic proportions and will require an historically broad coalition to solve.

At every level — international, national, sector and workplace — we are all stakeholders and we all have a part to play. At SEIU, we can and must “negotiate green,” creatively and persistently advocating for environmentally responsible paths and policies that respect human and labor rights.

Gerry Hudson is international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

 

Copyright © Labor for Sustainability