The Collective Bargaining Rights of Immigrant Workers: Organizing in Difficult Times

Source: Eliseo Medina, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 32 no. 2, 2011
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Eliseo Medina delivered the 2011 Feller Memorial Labor Law Lecture.
…I was asked to speak today about the collective rights of immigrant workers and organizing in difficult times. As you may know, our union -the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)- was founded in 1921 by a group of Eastern European immigrants who were Chicago flat janitors. They took care of the apartment buildings in Chicago…. In return they were paid a miserable wage… They were allowed rooms in the basement of the buildings next to the boilers, and because of their status as employees an immigrants, their children were forbidden to play with the children of the tenants…. They were denied not only a living wage and a decent standard of living, but also the most fundamental thing for any human being: respect and dignity. So they decided that the way to change their lives was to organize a union not just in Chicago, but throughout this country. And thus was born the modern SEIU…

..While today’s immigrants come primarily from other parts of the world than those that came here in 1921, they have the same dreams and the same hopes for the future and for themselves and for their children. And like the immigrants of 1921, they are facing some difficult challenges both as workers and as immigrants. Therefore, the question of immigrants unions is as relevant today as it was in 1921, and I am absolutely convinced that the way for today’s immigrants to claim their little piece of the American dream is to also organize a union….

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