SEIU Unveils Major National Campaign to Bring Economic Solutions to Main Street

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Published 1:26 PM Eastern - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ali Jost, 202-730-7159 and Kawana Lloyd, 202-730-7087

On heels of successful election mobilization program, two million-member labor union kicking off "Change That Works" Campaign in 35 states

WASHINGTON, DC - As Congress begins consideration of an economic recovery package supported by President-elect Obama, the two million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is launching a new state-by-state effort to bring economic solutions to Main Street by ensuring passage of the economic recovery package, passing comprehensive healthcare reform and ensuring workers have freedom to choose a voice at work.

"Voters in this country have spoken clearly for change," said SEIU International President Andy Stern. "SEIU members have created one of the largest and most effective political programs in the country - and this year they volunteered more of their personal time and committed more of their money than ever before to win the kind of change average people in this country need. Now it's time to make that change real by getting our economy back on track and building a country where the dreams we have for our families and our children can come true."

SEIU's "Change That Works" Campaign will build on the successful work that helped elect an unprecedented number of pro-working family candidates in November. This campaign will unite the strength of more than a thousand union members and staff to bring economic relief to millions across the country, help fix the nation's broken healthcare system and guarantee workers can freely decide whether to join with their coworkers in a union. As part of the campaign:

  • Outreach efforts and other activities are planned in 35 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • SEIU members have committed to more than 1,000 members and staff working full-time in the field and dedicated 30% of the union's resources to the campaign. Already approximately $10 million has been set aside to build and mobilize public support in key states.
  • SEIU has hired or assigned full-time state campaign directors for each of the 35 states.
  • SEIU has created a "war-room" at its headquarters in Washington, DC to facilitate the Change That Works program.
  • SEIU members will appeal directly to priority Members of Congress and the new Administration through phone calls, letters, and other actions. This holiday season alone, hundreds of members and activists recruited through SEIU hosted house meetings on health care--other forums and activities are planned this month.
  • In coalition with other organizations, SEIU will participate in multi-million dollar paid advertising campaigns this month and throughout 2009.
  • Nearly 100 senior staff members are currently participating in a multi-disciplinary training session in Cambridge, Massachusetts and will hit the ground running throughout the country next week.

Post-election polling by Lake Research Partners showed the economy topping the list of voters' overall issues and healthcare costs ranking number one among economic concerns. Meanwhile as union membership has declined nationally, average CEO pay has reached an all time high of 344 times average worker pay according to The Washington Post. In addition, although people are working harder⎯productivity rose nearly 20% between 2000 and 2006--real median household income fell by $1,175 between 2000 and 2007.

"If we're going to revive the American Dream we have to build an economy that works for everyone," said SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger. "SEIU's working families are committed to that ideal--and we're prepared to pave the way for America's elected leaders to stand with us in 2009 and beyond."

Aid to States Crucial to Relief for Working People, Avoiding Wider Recession

Leading economists warn that without significant aid to states our economy will soon plunge even deeper into recession (Stiglitz) and that this big problem requires big, bold action (Krugman). According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states are facing severe budget shortfalls this year and next year that represent up to 25 percent of their general fund budgets. Independent policy experts warn that billions in crucial public services -- health care, senior services, and public safety - may be cut at a time when people affected by the recession rely on them more than ever, and at a time when local communities would feel the ripple effect of reduced spending by people providing these services.

In letters to the Obama transition team and to members of Congress, SEIU outlines elements of an economic recovery plan that would work for working people, including:

  • significant relief to state and local governments to preserve and rebuild crucial services and good jobs;

  • major spending on infrastructure projects that are shovel-ready and others that will help create jobs and bolster local communities in the long-term; and spending on innovations in the health care and energy sectors to restore our economic competitiveness and put us on a sustainable path.

Crisis in Health Care Could Exacerbate Impact of Economic Meltdown

With nearly 46 million individuals currently living without health insurance and millions more with inadequate coverage, leading economic experts agree the healthcare crisis must be solved to ease the economic crisis--and inaction will only make matters worse. A November 2008 analysis by the New America Foundation entitled "The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why the Cost of Failing to Fix Our Health System is Greater than the Cost of Reform" shows average rising health care premiums outpacing wage increases and a trend that will result in "Americans will continue to pay more for less-generous health coverage; and fewer employers will offer health insurance to their workers."

In addition, the ongoing healthcare crisis is threatening a growing number of Americans with economic insecurity. Health Affairs projects that without changes to the healthcare system, the number of uninsured Americans will rise to 56 million by 2013. Meanwhile, surging healthcare costs are already threatening millions of families with bankruptcy and putting others at risk of losing their homes. According to a recent Harvard University study, medical crises contribute to half of all home foreclosures and could put as many as 1.5 million Americans at risk of losing their homes each year (Source: "Get Sick, Get Out: The Medical Causes of Home Mortgage Foreclosures," Christopher Tarver Robertson, Richard Egelhof, & Michael Hoke, August 2008).

Economic Strength, Union Density Linked

While health care is increasingly burdening families struggling to survive in the current economic climate, a growing body of evidence suggests there is a concrete benefit to communities when workers are in a union. New research by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that if five million service sector workers--often low-wage, no health benefit jobs--were permitted to form unions and receive the same wages and benefits as the unionized workers in their industries:

  • Five million workers would get a 22% raise on average, or an additional $7,000 a year.

  • $34 billion in total new wages would flow into the economy.

  • 900,000 jobs would be lifted above the poverty wage for family of four ($10.22/hr).

  • Between 1.8 and three million dependent children would share in these benefits.

  • The economic impact on individual workers would be about four times as large as the recent federal minimum wage increase, and produce nearly six times more in total new wages that would flow into the economy.

  • It would return almost as much money to workers as the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

  • Despite the positive impact such wage increases would have on local communities and the economy for working families, it is estimated that during an average unionization drive 25 percent of employers fire workers and fully 91% force employees to attend intimidating one-on-one meetings with their supervisors.

    "America is supposed to be a place where when you work hard you can get ahead," said Theo Jackson, a Substance Abuse Case Manger in Scotts Valley, CA. "But I lost my job after I spoke out for a better life for my family and my co-workers."

    SEIU Played Key Role in 2008 Election Cycle

    The Change That Works Campaign comes on the heels of SEIU's 2008 election mobilization program, which was widely viewed as effective and far-reaching. More than 3,000 SEIU members, staff, and local leaders voluntarily took time off the job to work full-time on the 2008 election cycle and played a critical role in electing Barack Obama and Joe Biden as well as candidates at all levels of government committed to improving the lives of working families. Over the course of the campaign, an additional 100,000 nurses, janitors, child care providers and other workers volunteered after work and on weekends.

    Overall, SEIU members and staff knocked on 3,571,955 doors and made 16,539,038 phone calls, helping to win 81 percent of the key races and ballot measures supported by SEIU families and leading Politico to name SEIU one of "the biggest winners" of the election.

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