Reuther Library SEIU archivist Sarah Lebovitz shares highlights from the union’s first 100 years, and explains how its archives at the Reuther Library have supported labor organizing and centennial celebrations.
Dr. Timothy Minchin explores how the SEIU nearly doubled its membership from 1980-1995, during a time of significantly declining numbers in most other American labor unions. Through an exploration of SEIU’s membership drives at nursing homes, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and its long-running Justice for Janitors campaign, Minchin credits the union’s growth to a combination of organizing, affiliation with independent unions, legislative advances for public employee unions, and the prevalence of low-wage jobs in the growing service sector. Dr. Minchin is a Professor of History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
SEIU archivist Sarah Lebovitz explains how her background in anthropology informs her work as an archivist, preserving and revealing the experiences of underrepresented groups. She recounts successful SEIU actions including the implementation of needlestick protocol for healthcare workers and the organization of women office workers in SEIU District 925, which served as inspiration for the classic 1980 film 9 to 5, starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda (whose oral history about the movement is available at the Reuther Library). Lebovitz describes the challenges and opportunities of archiving social media and digital content, and making archives more accessible and interactive for researchers. She and host Dan Golodner discuss the challenge of convincing union organizers and members that the work they’re doing today is historically important and worth documenting.