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Statement by SEIU President Andrew L. Stern on Disaffiliating from the AFL-CIO

Monday, July 25, 2005

July 25, 2005

Thank you for joining all of the SEIU executive officers today -- Anna Burger, Eliseo Medina, Tom Woodruff, Gerry Hudson, and Mary Kay Henry.

Yesterday, SEIU made the decision to not participate in today's AFL-CIO convention.

Last night, after years of discussion across all levels of our union, our International Executive Board met. Today, we have made the decision to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO.

I want to stress that this was not an easy or happy decision.

In itself, it represents not an accomplishment, but simply an enormous opportunity, and a recognition that we are in the midst of the most rapid transformative moment in economic history, and workers are suffering.

We are walking down a road, and the mileposts are clear.

A country that once had 35 percent union membership is now down to 8 percent in the private sector.

And the results are that workers have less health care,

less time to spend with their families, less secure pensions in their retirement, but more debt and more insecurity about the future.

The American dream has slipped out of reach for too many.

Our world has changed. Our economy has changed. Employers have changed; but the AFL-CIO is not willing to make fundamental change as well.

By contrast, SEIU has changed.

Our union was started in 1923, right here in Chicago. In fact, we're meeting today at SEIU Local 1 -- our very first local. Those original members were janitors -- Immigrants: Italian, Irish, Polish -- who traveled to this country in search of that same American dream.

And despite the fact that other unions looked down on them, these workers united, found strength, and gave birth to a new union which has become the largest union in the AFL-CIO and the fastest growing in the world.

In the past 9 years alone, we have united more than 900,000 workers -- largely people of color, immigrants, and working women -- because SEIU members made decisions to:

    * unite themselves into unions large enough to be successful
    * devote the needed resources to organizing
    * develop the strategies to unite workers and set high standards in whole industries, markets, and employers
    * and make our union at all levels truly reflect the diversity of today's workforce.

Those choices -- the choices of our members -- are at the heart of SEIU's disaffiliation decision. Those choices are the very ones we proposed to the AFL-CIO. Those choices are at the heart of the Change to Win Coalition.

I'm proud to be here today with President Hoffa and to stand with the other Change to Win Presidents who are committed to this type of fundamental change.

A lot has been said about the differences between our strategy and the package proposed by the AFL-CIO leadership.

They are not differences in purpose or goal. They are fundamental differences in basic strategy.

We believe in very fundamental change, not incremental reform.

We believe in accountability, not what "should" happen but what "shall" happen.

We believe we can and will succeed based on our own efforts -- not a rescue by others.

We know that when you're heading down a road and you know where it ends, you have to get off that road and go in a different direction where there is hope.

As I have said, many times before, the future of American workers is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice.

Today, SEIU is respectfully making a choice to go in a different direction that we believe will work for working people.

We wish the AFL-CIO well, and hope they are successful. We may disagree but we intend not to be disagreeable.

But we know that working people in America can't afford to wait any longer.

Our goal is not to divide the labor movement, but to rebuild it -- so working people can once again achieve the American Dream.

Today, we take the first step down that new road.

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