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A union of janitors is born.


How a group of mostly immigrant workers dared to dream.


In 1921, immigrant janitors from Eastern Europe, Africa, Turkey, Spain and Ireland came together in Chicago to form the Building Service Employees International Union (BSEIU). Today, the Service Employees International Union has come to represent some 2 million workers, over 25 percent of whom identify as immigrants - a constant tribute to the union's roots. From the start, SEIU has embraced its heritage as a union of immigrants and has stood on the frontline of immigrant justice.

Application for Certificate of Affiliation to the American Federation of Labor, April 23, 1921.
Application for Certificate of Affiliation to the American Federation of Labor, April 23, 1921.

BSEIU faced opposition from building owners, the courts, and even other unions, but managed to quickly grow from 200 members in 1921 to 250,000 by 1960.

In 1968, the BSEIU changed its name to Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But the Chicago-based Local 1, the union's first local union, continues to unite janitors, security officers, and other property service workers for justice at the workplace and in our communities today.

From those humble beginnings grew an organization of 2 million janitors, nursing home workers, nurses, child care providers, security officers, county and city workers, and other workers.

SEIU members keep our buildings and communities safe and clean and our families healthy, we care for our children and our elderly, and keep our cities and states running.

We stand up for justice and for civil rights for all--for immigrants, for women, for LGBT workers, for people of color, for all workers--because we know that's the only way we can move our country forward.

These are all proud parts of our history. And today we are still uniting for the same things that brought those flat janitors together nine decades ago--a good job that supports a family and includes healthcare, a secure retirement after a career of hard work, safe and livable communities, and a better future for our children.