SEIU’s philosophy: Unite the workers and fight against abuses of the bosses

Opinion & Analysis Apr 27, 2018 at 3:32 pm


Interview with Luisa Blue, EVP, SEIU

(The Philippine Reporter interview by Mila Astorga-Garcia, with Luisa Blue, one of the top labor union leaders in the United States.She was in Toronto recently to speak before a union convention).

THE PHILIPPINE REPORTER:  You’ve been working for four decades for workers’ rights. Will you give us a bit of a background on how you’ve chosen this advocacy as your lifetime mission.  Were there family influences while growing up, your community and social environment included?

LUISA BLUE: Prior to entering SF State University for the nursing program, I was active during junior college with the Filipino Student association and thru that became involved with members of the KDP-Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino – Union of Democratic Filipinos.  KDP’s purpose was to restore democracy in the Philippines, fight discrimination against Filipinos in the US,  and be a voice for the Filipino community on multiple social justice issues in the U.S.

In the late 70’s to early ‘80’s, I became involved with the KDP  through the Fair Licensure campaign for Filipino trained RNs who where failing the U.S. RN exam at a high percentage despite having a BSN degree and forming at competent or above competent levels in the hospital under temporary RN licenses. My Union, Service Employees International Union Local 400 got involved because my Union represented the San Francisco City and County workers, including RNs who worked for our County hospital (SF General Hospital and Medical Center, the SF County Public Health System and rehabilitation hospital (Laguna Honda Hospital). A review of the RN licensing exam also showed that ALL minority nurses, trained in the U.S. and in foreign countries, failed the licensing exam at a high rate but racist nurses and leader that belonged to the California Nurses Association focused their attack on Filipino foreign trained RNs and blamed Phillipine trained nurses for lowering standards and ignored the fact that U.S.-trained minority nurses were failing the exam as well. A study on the RN licensing exam done by the state of California’s Consumer Affairs Dept. found that there was “adverse impact” on minority nurses and another study found that the exam was culturally biased and had not been revised since the early ‘50’s. Through the campaign, the licensing exams were revised but the ethnic data collection of past-fail rates ceased.

I was working at SF General at the time and along with other SEIU Local 400 RNs testified before the California Board of Registered Nurses with the Asian Law Caucus and the Filipinos for Immigrant Services (now Filipinos for Justice) defending foreign-trained nurses and pointing out that what lowered standards in the hospital was inadequate staffing of RNs and ancillary staff and that the exam needed to be reviewed.

I became active in my Union on short staffing issues on the nursing floors and eventually became the president and then worked for the International Union as an SEIU union organizer.

TPR:  Could you relate to us the story of what prompted you to take on this commitment for workers’ rights, especially immigrant workers’ right in the U.S.?

LB: My experience above was the basis of my involvement in the Union and immigrant rights. Also my involvement with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, APALA. SEIU represents a high number of immigrant workers, including undocumented workers, in our three Divisions – Public Service, Healthcare and Property Services. We also represent the largest number of unionized API, over 110K.

Also I am first generation born. My parents immigrated to the U.S. My father immigrated in the 1920’s, the first wave of Filipino Immigrants in the U.S. known as the Manongs where they faced racism and my mother immigrated in the early 1950’s.

TPR:  What are the additional challenges to your campaign under the anti-immigrant Trump administration?  What are the new policies inimical to union organizing in the U.S.?  How does it affect the workers’ movement?

LB: Labor does not have political influence in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.  I also attribute this loss of political influence due to the decline of unionized workers and unfortunately has been in the decline for decades. While SEIU continued it’s commitment to organize non-union workers in our three industries to become one of the largest unions in North America (two million), the rest of labor did not grow and only 6-7% of private sector workers are unionized.

Because of the lack of power, labor laws are not strong (although they were strengthened under the Obama administration) and bosses can do anything they want to intimidate and harass workers from talking about joining a union.

The immigrant workforce in the U.S. will continue to grow, especially in the service sector and now we see an increase of immigrant workers in the tech industry. Along with that workforce growth comes the potential of political influence that can be progressive if labor can work together with community allies.

However, with these challenging times are also great opportunities for the labor movement to unite with communities of color and immigrant communities and progressive community organizations on issues that impact all working families.

TPR: From your work experience with SEIU, what is the difference between organizing racialized immigrant workers in the U.S. and in Canada?  Do you organize according to individual ethnic communities, considering the distinct experience of each one as an immigrant group?  Or do you do it otherwise?  Why?

LB: I am not familiar with the situation in Canada but I imagine that racism and anti-immigrant sentiments exist in Canada as they exist in the U.S. We do not organize according to individual ethnic communities but strive to have an organizing team that reflects the diversity of the workforce and if there are language barriers, we have staff and union members that speak the languages needed.

SEIU’s philosophy is no matter how diverse the workforce is we must unite the workers to organizations and fight against the abuses of the bosses.

TPR: What piece of advice would you want to leave to organizers of immigrant workers both in Canada and the U.S. during these especially challenging, albeit precarious, times for the grassroots labor movement?

LB: We must continue to organize non-union workers so they have a voice at work, elect the right officials who respect workers and care about working families no matter where they came from. And that unions in the U.S. and Canada continue to share information and work together to fight the 1%. The rich and multi million corporations have no borders and Labor should think and act the same way.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All.