Talking to Your Co-Workers

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SEIU: SNAPSHOTS

Here are some facts about SEIU you might want to tell new members about.

  • SEIU was founded in 1921 by a handful of immigrant janitors. Today it unites 2 million members.

  • SEIU headquarters is located in Washington, D.C. Members are organized in some 300 local unions throughout the continent. SEIU belongs to the Change to Win Federation (CtW) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). 

  • SEIU' s over 2 million members represent hundreds of different occupations including janitors, doctors, school workers, social workers, nurses, engineers, taxi drivers, and government workers throughout the continental United States, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. We' re the most diverse union anywhere. 

  • SEIU is the largest union for healthcare and building service workers. It's the second-largest union for public employees

  • SEIU members have contracts with 12,000 different employers. 

  • Half of SEIU's members are women, more than the workforce in general. Almost three-quarters of our members live in two-worker families. 

  • More than 40 percent of SEIU members are minorities, compared to 25 percent of the workforce in general. 

  • Sixty percent of our members are 40 years of age or more, which makes us older than the workforce as a whole. 

  • Among the languages spoken in SEIU local unions: English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Polish, Italian, Portuguese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, Japanese, Creole, and Greek. That' s just some. 

  • Most SEIU members work in metropolitan areas. New York (300,000), Los Angeles (205,000), and Chicago (90,000) are the biggest. 

  • Of SEIU's over 2 million members, more than half work for federal, state, or local governments. 

  • The hundreds of job occupations represented by SEIU are grouped into four major divisions:  hospital systems, public employees, property services and security, and long term care.

  • The SEIU International Convention held every four years is the highest governing body of the union. Delegates representing every SEIU member must approve all decisions and policies of the union, including any dues increases. 

  • Between conventions, SEIU is governed by an International president, a secretary-treasurer, 14 vice presidents, four executive vice presidents, and a 42-member executive board elected by the convention. As a result, most SEIU members have a direct voice on the SEIU executive board. 

  • SEIU local unions have more autonomy than most unions. Local union members elect their own officers, write their own constitutions and bylaws, and negotiate their own contracts. Local union members must approve any strike in accordance with their established policies and procedures. 

  • Fewer than two percent of SEIU labor agreements ever involve a strike.


EXPLAINING ABOUT DUES

Dues are a touchy topic in any union. And when times are tough, almost any expense can seem burdensome to workers.

Some stewards believe in defusing the issue by raising it first with new workers. They explain how dues are really a good investment rather than a bothersome expense.

1. In addition to higher wages, union workers enjoy better health insurance, pensions, occupational safety and health, and job security than do unorganized workers.
2. Far more than unorganized workers, union employees receive fair treatment, rights, dignity, and respect on the job.
3. SEIU doesn't  set the dues. Only delegates to the SEIU International convention, who represent the members, can vote to increase the dues. Local unions can also vote to increase their dues. 

What are the dues used for? Lots and lots of things.

  • Negotiating contracts requires research analysts, negotiators, union reps, and field staffers to organize rallies, worksite actions, and press events.

  • Defending members and enforcing contracts requires money for legal help as well as grievance and arbitration expenses.

  • Winning improved legislation and public services by lobbying, research, and testifying at the local, state, and federal level.

  • New member organizing to improve wages and benefits in competing workplaces so our own wages and benefits are not eroded or contracted-out.

  • Occupational safety and health programs. SEIU has gained national recognition for its work on asbestos, bloodborne diseases, and other workplace hazards.

  • Education and publications for union programs of all kinds, including newsletters, media campaigns, public relations, and opinion surveys. 

  • Strike, welfare, defense, and other worker funds.

  • Office rents, travel, supplies, and administration.

  • Support for programs on civil and human rights, equal opportunity, senior members, and organizing.

  • Membership in the Change to Win Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress as well as state and local labor federations and councils.

The New Strength Unity Plan

In 1999 International President Andrew L. Stern appointed a special committe to look at the challenges SEIU members and their families face as we head into a new century.  Based on an analysis of the growing power of corporations and their influence on politicians, the President's Committee 2000 recommended the adoption of a Unity plan that would build new strength for working families.  This Plan included the following seven areas:

  • Building strength through membership unity including the expansion of membership involvement and a major increase in communication and union education.
  • New coordination among SEIU local unions who will work together to develop industry strategies and pool some of their resources in a national Unity Fund fo rjoint strategies and mutual support.
  • Create accountability to each other through the joint setting of high performance standards.
  • Uniting all workers who do the same type of work by bringing into the union many more workers who are in the same industries or do the same kind of work.  We also will launch a massive effort to pressure employers not to interfere with workers' freedom to choose a voice at work by forming a union.
  • Holding politicians accountable on issues important to working people by implementing a year-round program to involve members in making public officials listen to working families.
  • More use of technology including the internet.
  • Raising the resources to build new strength through a dues structure that generates the resources necessary to win.

The New Strength Unity Plan was adopted by the local union delegates at the 2000 SEIU Convention.

SEIU's financial statements are published regularly showing where every cent of income has been spent. You can check with your officers for details about your own local union's funding and expenditures.


WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES A UNION MAKE?

As a steward, it's your job to sell the benefits of union membership to unorganized workers. And it doesn't hurt to remind our own members from time to time, either. Here (in capsule form) are eight big advantages unions bring to a workplace:

Union No union
Wages, benefits, working conditions Protected by legal contract. At the whim of management.
Wages Spelled out in the contract. Secret. Negotiated individually by management.
Raises Bargained for everyone. All workers vote on the settlement. Favoritism can determine individual raises.
Discipline The union will defend you. Lots of luck. You' re on your own.
Promotions Awarded fairly according to negotiated agreement. Favoritism, the romance, blackmail, you name it.
Vacations, shifts, layoffs Based on the negotiated agreement. See above.
Problems Union will work on the job to solve them. Their way or the highway.
Give people a voice in the political arena Work for laws that protect all working people and their families. Take away or weaken laws that protect workers, i.e., health and safety, overtime, etc.

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