On this day in Labor History the year was 1995.
That was the day that the AFL-CIO Convention convened in New York City.
At the convention John Sweeney was elected president of the federation.
It was the first contested election for president in AFL-CIO history.
He ran with a slate of labor leaders, including Richard Trumka, who called themselves the “New Voice” slate.
Sweeney was the President of the Service Employees International Union.
He was a New Yorker, born in the Bronx.
He started his career in labor working for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, then moving to SEIU as a union rep.
He represented SEIU Local 32B in New York City during two strikes of apartment maintenance workers during the 1970s.
In 1980 he was elected SEIU President, a post he held for fifteen years.
Membership in SEIU nearly doubled from 625,000 to 1.1 million under his leadership.
Sweeney gave a powerful speech for his candidacy at the convention.
He said, “Workers look at their paychecks, the political system and the public debate and wonder why nobody is speaking for me?
Then, in fear and frustration, they look for leadership to the Rush Limbaugh’s who seek scapegoats rather than solutions for the problems of stagnant wages, corporate greed and a fractured society.”
He pledged that under his leadership the AFL-CIO would move to commit more resources to organizing these workers.
When he won election, Sweeney held good to his campaign promise.
He initiated a new initiative, the Union Summer program, to involve college students in the labor movement.
He expanded organizing efforts in the South and Southwest.
John Sweeney served five terms as AFL-CIO President.