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


A review of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, by Jane McAlevey with Bob Ostertag. New York/London: Verso Books, 2012. 318 pp. $25.95 (hardcover)

 

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, SEIU and its local affiliates have employed tens of thousands of non-members 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), 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 SEIU after supporting the janitors employed at her Connecticut college.)

 

Many, if not most, of 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, w

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