About 3,000 members of the Service Employees International Union will gather at Cobo Center starting Sunday for their quadrennial convention, where they’ll vote on a resolution to partner more closely with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The move is an effort to unite their power and strengthen their lobbying and political organizing positions.
The partnership, which will be voted on by delegates at the convention and must separately be ratified by AFSCME workers, could potentially lead to a merger that would establish the country’s largest labor union with nearly 4 million members.
“While we recognize the differences in culture and structure between our respective organizations and the divisions that have hampered us in the past, the times demand that we build on our common purpose,” the unions said in a resolution that is expected to be approved.
Attendees at the three-day conference will also elect international union officers and establish goals the organization will fight for in the coming years. Its top issues include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; establishing affordable child care for all; immigration reform; care for the elderly and disables; and eliminating racism toward African-Americans.
But one industry observer says the pact with AFSCME will be the most important issue on the table.
“It would have a significant impact,” said Art Wheaton, a labor expert at Cornell University. “This would give (SEIU) access to millions more workers that would have similar interests. It would have an impact on the ballot box; you’d have millions of votes you could potentially impact in the elections.”
The SEIU has roughly 2 million members across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. AFSCME has roughly 1.6 million mostly government workers.
The SEIU has been a major force in advocating for a $15 minimum wage, and has helped lead to some states agreeing to phase in the raise over the next few years.
The union shook up the labor movement in 2005 when it was one of multiple organizations to split with the ALF-CIO to form the Change to Win federation.
“It created all kinds of headache and heartache; and (the potential partnership with AFSCME, which is part of the AFL-CIO) is showing they weren’t able to get anywhere near the level of support they thought,” Wheaton said. “This could be a way for SEIU to get back into the mainstream.”