More than two hundred member delegates and guests attended SEIU Local 521’s convention in San Jose from Oct. 13 to Oct. 15, 2017. Over three days, they met and charted the future of our union under the theme of “Together We Rise.” This was SEIU Local 521’s largest convention, at a time when unions, worker rights, immigrants, healthcare, and public services are all under attack.
SEIU Local 521 President Gwyn Harshaw opened the program with a recap of SEIU Local 521’s first ten years. Chief Elected Officer Riko Mendez and Alma Hernandez, Executive Director of SEIU California State Council, inspired the room talking about the power we built and that we’ll need to draw upon as we move into the future.
“I believe there is enough power in this room to change the world, and truly take on the coming challenges we face in the labor movement.”
– Riko Mendez, SEIU Local 521 Chief Elected Officer
SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry thanked Local 521 for our efforts to protect the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program and our sisters and brothers who are Dreamers, gave a shout-out to the leaders of the Kern County contract fight, and recognized the four major Labor Day events Local 521 organized in Bakersfield, Fresno, Salinas, and San Jose. She pushed our leaders to provide inspiration in face of stronger attacks on unions and union members.
“We can re-ignite the labor movement so that everyone can have work with dignity.”
– SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry
In workshops, member delegates shared how their first engagement with the union was typically through a personal worksite struggle, but that after working together with coworkers and seeing positive results, they stepped into greater leadership roles. SEIU Local 521 has a goal of recruiting 1,001 new leaders to help our union thrive in the face of deceptive anti-union attacks such as “right-to-work” laws, that are really attacks against our rights to join together in a union.
The program offered workshops to develop practical skills we will need to build a union strong enough to survive anti-union attacks, including delivering New Member Orientations, our updated membership cards, recommitting members to our union, communications skills, and what it takes to be a union leader. The following members were recognized for their leadership in engaging and recommitting members: Rose Marie Ruiz, Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center Health Service Representative; Suzie Caston, San Benito County Child Support Specialist II; Kate Selover, Stanislaus County Child Support Officer II; Debbie Acosta, Fresno Unified School District Swimming Pool Operator; and Sonia Chagollan, Kern County Human Services Supervisor.
On Sunday morning, Santa Clara County leader Connie Chew facilitated a very powerful panel of community, faith, and elected leaders who shared experiences working with labor to make a difference for low-wage workers, save healthcare for millions, and fight for immigrant families. The panel included: Ash Kalra, California State Assemblyman (CA 27); Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director, Working Partnerships; and Pastor Trena Turner, Founding Executive Director, Faith in the Valley.
California’s Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Treasurer John Chiang, both candidates for Governor in 2018, expressed support for unions, including a pledge to support collective bargaining rights for family child care providers. Child care unionizing bills have been vetoed by Governors five times for the past 13 years. However, this bill is long overdue as it would help lift out of poverty 80,000 child care providers in the state, and give them a voice to improve early education programs.
“Unions raise the standard of living for all child care workers, as well as the families we serve.”
– Anna Rodriguez, Watsonville Family Child Care Provider
The delegates voted unanimously to recommend that our Executive Board adopt the following platform to guide our work for the next three years:
“In a rapidly changing world with increasing inequality, we will unite to put power back into the hands of union workers and the communities we serve, so that as one we can rise up and improve the quality of life for working families. Our goal is to become a more member-driven organization which thrives on being an unstoppable force. We will unite in transforming our union into a positive and powerful partner with those communities where we live and work. We can achieve this through intentional leadership development, membership and mobilization, and political strength. We will fight side by side, we will take ownership of our collective strength and we will give hope to our future.”
Our delegates are committed to building a union that thrives into the future by focusing on:
- Member Leadership Recruitment and Development
- Membership Mobilization
- Political Power
The platform includes the following eleven planks:
- Good jobs and worker rights – living wages, good benefits, and the right to be in a union or worker organization.
- Universal healthcare
- Strong safety net and social services and care – for seniors, people with disabilities, children, homeless people, and for all Californians who need it
- Affordable housing – shelter for all
- Comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship & protections for immigrants
- Racial equality & justice
- LGBTQ and Gender equality & justice
- Access to clean air & water for all communities, clean energy, and a clean environment
- Retirement security for all Californians
- Excellent affordable educational opportunities accessible to all – including child care, early education, K-12, free college, worker training, apprenticeships, and adult education
- Strong democracy – reforming our broken electoral systems, with voting rights protected, more people participating, and more union members in elected office
Our members are invited to attend the next executive board meeting on December 2-3, 2017 being held via video-conference in Bakersfield, Fresno, Salinas, San Jose, and Visalia. RSVP now to your local union office.
The 2017 Convention was powerful and now more than ever we are committed to strengthening and growing our union. We will do this by training 1,001 member leaders to build power at the worksites and in our communities.
To learn more about the convention and how you can help grow our union, talk to a delegate, your chapter leaders or your steward.
“The ‘Together We Rise’ 2017 convention gave me the opportunity to meet other leaders, as well as learn new techniques to continue building more strength at my worksite, and engage my coworkers. Together with SEIU Local 521 leaders, I am ready to fight and grow our union!”
– “Armas” Ruben, Medical Assistant at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and SEIU 521 Steward