Bidding Adieu to the SEIU: Lessons for Its Next Generation of Organizers?

Source: Steve Early, WorkingUSA, Vol. 15 no. 4, December 2012
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Review of McAlevey, Jane, with Ostertag, Bob. Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement. New York and London: Verso Books, 2012.

From the abstract:
Few modern unions have done more outside hiring than the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), America’s second largest labor organization. Beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing unabated today, the SEIU and its local affiliates have employed tens of thousands of nonmembers as organizers, servicing reps, researchers, education specialists, PR people, and staffers of other kinds. While most unions hire and promote largely from within (i.e., from the ranks of their working members), the SEIU has always cast its net wider.

It has welcomed energetic refugees from other unions, promising young student activists, former community organizers, ex-environmentalists, Democratic Party campaign operatives, and political exiles from abroad. (One prototypical campus recruit was my older daughter, Alex, a Latin-American studies major who became a local union staffer for the SEIU after supporting the janitors employed at her Connecticut college.)

Many, if not most, of the SEIU’s outside hires no longer work for the union, in part because of its penchant for “management by churn.” This means that its network of distinguished alumni today is far larger than its current national and local workforce, which is not small. And not all of these SEIU alums have fond memories of their tour of duty in purple, the union’s signature color. For an institution that demands great loyalty from its staff, the SEIU is not known for its reciprocal attachment to those who do its bidding. Ex-SEIUers include many dedicated, hard-working organizers who were useful for a while, until they were not.

In several recent purges, the SEIU even managed to forget about the past services rendered by organizers sometimes described as “legendary.” I refer here to Bruce Raynor, former head of Workers United/SEIU, and Stephen Lerner, a fellow SEIU executive board member who directed the union’s Private Equity Project and devised its much-applauded “Justice for Janitors” campaigns two decades ago. …
See also:
Author Response to Steve Early’s Review of Raising Expectations
Source: Jane McAlevey, WorkingUSA, Vol. 15 no. 4, December 2012
(subscription required)