Our Fight, Our Future: Leaders and Activists Assembly 2013

Member leaders celebrating at the 2013 Leaders and Activists Assembly.

Coming from all four of our states, hundreds of the most active and fired-up member leaders in SEIU HCII gathered at Chicago’s McCormick Place in September to unite with our community partners, build our strength for the fights ahead, and celebrate another year of victories at 2013’s Leaders and Activists Assembly.

During the two-day gathering, members focused on achieving justice and equality by building within the union and also reaching out to the larger community.  Day one focused on the need to forge alliances with our partners in the community to expand our power and fight for common goals.  On the second day, we unleashed an UPRising – short for “Union Power Rising,” a statement of the vision and values of HCII.

Along the way, members participated in workshops on topics ranging from the healthcare and education crisis in our communities to new frontiers in civil rights.  They also honored the community partners who joined forces with us to win big victories.  And, they even danced to the beat of a drum corps who opened the first day’s activities.

This year's assembly also introduced the Millennials, a group of younger activist members who will carry our mission into the future.

This year’s assembly also introduced the Millennials, a group of younger activist members who will carry our mission into the future.

But most members agreed that the highlights of this year’s assembly were our keynote speakers and the time we spent doing what our union does best: taking our fight to the streets.

Raising our voices through Chicago: Protesting at Forever 21, Wendy’s, and Schwab Hospital

On the first day of the assembly, members, allies, and HCII staff jumped onto ten buses to rally at downtown locations of Wendy’s and Forever 21 in solidarity with the Fight for Fifteen movement (see page whatever Scott’s stuff ends up on), and to Schwab Hospital, where our members are fighting for a fair contract.

Food Service Worker Joe Peery gave a moving testimonial at Schwab, connecting Chicago’s severe problem with violence to the chronic lack of secure, well-paid jobs in the city.

“Whenever you’ve got management sitting at the table, bargaining in bad faith, and doing whatever they can to replace your job and keep your wages low, that ripples across the entire city, does it not? What we’re asking here at Schwab is for management to come back to the table and stop trying to pit us against temp workers. How about we bring everyone up to a good wage? That’s why we’re here today.”

Members took action at Forever 21 to protest the corporation cutting workers' hours to avoid paying for their health care.

Members took action at Forever 21 to protest the corporation cutting workers’ hours to avoid paying for their health care.

At Wendy’s and Forever 21, members chanted slogans like “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Poverty wages have got to go!” in support of the Fight for Fifteen movement that has swept the nation in recent months. Wendy’s is a notorious member of the group of massively profitable fast food chains that pay their workers unlivable wages, and Forever 21 recently announced plans to cut full-time workers’ hours in order to avoid providing health coverage for them.

Chicago nursing home worker George White participated in the action at Forever 21.

“I feel empowered. I feel as if we’re helping our fellow workers, because we’re underpaid in the health care field just like they are in retail and fast food. Any time we can help out and let people know we’re being mistreated, I’m all for it,” George said.

Stanley Price, a nursing home worker in St. Louis, MO, talked about how it’s important for us to support our fellow workers in different fields, because we’re underpaid in health care just as they are in fast food and retail.

“I feel that this march was very effective, because I saw the reactions of the people passing by as we took action, and they had a lot of questions about what we were doing. People need to know about how rich corporations are exploiting their workers. It’s time to fight back.”

Rev. Dr. William Barber II: Building a Transformative Movement for Justice

We were honored to host Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP and founder of the Moral Mondays movement, as our keynote speaker for this year’s assembly. Rev. Barber gave a moving address, explaining our social justice movement’s context and place in history, lifting up the good work that gets done when white, black, and brown folks, men and women, gay and straight, and all others with the will to fight for justice come together, and encouraging all of us to get out in our communities to “do something.” By the end of the speech, members in the audience were on their feet, cheering, clapping, and even crying.

But an article can’t do justice to the Reverend’s speech. Please visit our Facebook page to join the conversation about Rev. Barber’s message and what it means for us, or view the video of his keynote address directly here.

SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina: The Time is Now for Common Sense Immigration Reform

Medina opened his address by comparing the fight for immigration reform to the fight we waged thirty years ago to win recognition for home care workers (see Kaitlin’s page.)

“You were the first ones to organize and stand up for your rights, and for recognition of the work that you do, caring for our grandparents, for people who cannot take care of themselves, and you stood up for them, and you stood up for yourselves. You said something very fundamental: We will not be invisible anymore. Brothers and sisters, look now at what you’ve built,” Medina said, before calling us the most strategic, the most active, and “the best-looking” union in the United States.

Eliseo Medina’s speech in this year’s assembly will be one of his last public addresses as Secretary-Treasurer, as he has announced his plan to retire this October to focus full-time on immigration reform. Watch his presentation in its entirety here.


Though we were all exhausted after an action-packed two-day conference, member leaders left this year’s assembly fired up and ready to win the fights to come in 2014.