Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Equality is a Labor Value

Guest Blogger: Mary Kay Henry

The fight for the freedom to marry is dear to me, for safeguarding my own partnership and for realizing the same goals of social and economic justice that we advance every day at SEIU and in the labor movement.

I have worked for thirty years to ensure that health caregivers--nurses, technicians, ambulance drivers, home care workers--can do their jobs safely giving high-quality service to people in their communities while having a say in their working lives and their government.

Even in hard economic times, the health care sector continues to add jobs. And even though caregivers’ votes, along with those of other working people, have won elections--even though we have put important allies in power, such as President Obama--caregivers don’t have as decisive a voice as we might want in our economy or in establishing and protecting equal rights at the federal and state level.

But through SEIU, the conscience of caregivers and working families speaks loudly and clearly. We are the largest union in North America, uniting more than 2 million members. Five years ago, at our International Convention in 2004, we made winning equal rights and benefits for all our members a priority in bargaining and legislative campaigns at every level of our union.

We passed a resolution supporting marriage equality. In it, we committed to opposing any laws and constitutional amendments that deny equal rights. We will continue to stand against any campaign or candidate who uses antigay, anti-union, anti-worker policies as a wedge to divide our communities or states.

In the past year, we made good on these commitments on several fronts, including the landmark quest to gain, preserve, and now win back marriage equality in California. We cheered the court ruling for equal marriage in Connecticut, and we will assist in future drives to secure and defend this indispensable form of equal protection.

My union’s motto, “stronger together,” applies not simply to the strength that health caregivers and other workers enjoy by joining forces through a union. It applies to our union’s broader vision of a nation that includes, respects, and rewards each worker, where a CEO and a nursing home caregiver are equal under the law and where our founding ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not a promise for the few, but rather a contract with every American that we work as one to make good for all.

We hope that as we walk forward together, you will find opportunities to add your voice to our own for workers’ freedom to form a union in a climate without coercion or intimidation. It is in this spirit of shared values and timely collaboration that I am proud to support Freedom to Marry in its fight for marriage equality.

***Mary Kay Henry is an International Executive Vice President of SEIU and a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality. SEIU is the largest and fastest growing union in North America. She is the leader of the SEIU Healthcare Division and has devoted her life to helping America's health caregivers form unions, improve their jobs and the quality of care, and advocate for a more rational and humane health care system. She is a founding member of SEIU's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lavender Caucus.


Anonymous said...

As a gay Mommy in a committed relationship of eight years--one who is now unable to marry in California--I can only say thank you to Ms Henry and the SEIU for standing together with us in our battle for marriage equality. It is important for our fellow Americans to remember that we are working families too and share the same struggles that they do.

Now, my family is armed with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of SEIU's working families stand with us, both gay and straight. We can stand taller, and stronger, and move forward together!

Thank you, SEIU, for fighting for our rights at work and at home.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that your union has the vision to see that simply winning equal pay and rights on the job is rather empty if you cannot go home to the person you love and enjoy the full legal rights of marriage granted to your heterosexual co-workers. Bravo for SEIU that you do truly believe in equal rights for everyone, and that you are willing to stand up and fight for it.

Anonymous said...

Given SEIU's vicious attacks on the progressive California insfrastructure, it ridiculous for Mary Kay Henry to be lecture our state about anything.

Mary Kay, you know full well that Sal Rosselli the elected head of the United Healthcare Workers/SEIU is the nation's most important LGBT labor leader. He is leading the fight against Proposition 8, and is on the board of both Equality California and the Courage Campaign.

When Andy Stern, whom you represent, took over Sal's union, you severly undermined our community's ability to fight against Proposition 8.

Moreover, you showed your contempt for democratic structures and for the patient care standards that UHW has consistently fought for. As just one example, Andy Stern and your union SEIU bargains contracts that prevents nurses from reporting patient safety violations in nursing homes. Hello Mary Kay this much more directly impacts families that whatever you are writing.

The religious right cheered when you took over the most progressive union in America--and NOW you're trying it again with your efforts to take over the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, an lgbt-dominated union (at least in Northern California).

Spare us your lectures.

Anonymous said...

The linkage that Henry makes between civil rights and having a union caught my attention. Many people--though not enough--understand that union members and labor have been the source of so many good things that my family and Americans generally take for granted: the weekend, minimum wage laws, basic job benefits, workplace safety. But domestic-partnership policies and the push for equal marriage rights has also benefited mightily from union support. Henry's pitch at the end about stopping intimidation of employees and making sure that those who have won a union actually can pass a contract is really in keeping with the goal of equal protection, too. How many times have anti-union managers or consultants tried to divide a group of workers by using anti-gay rumors and outright smears to try to block a contract? Ending that kind of abuse is at the heart of the drive in Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA. It's refreshing to have someone make the connection so smoothly between unions and civil rights.

Anonymous said...

SEIU members and union staff also have been some very outspoken allies in my community. I can always count on them to stand up for equal rights, wages, better care at the city council or with state legislation we work on. I guess this kind of support goes from the bottom up and from the top down. So refreshing to hear this voice of labor.