90 Years Strong: A Janitors’ Union is Born

Ninety years ago this month, members of seven small flat janitor unions–right here in Chicago–dared to dream they could build their strength by forming a single organization, the Building Service Employees International Union, BSEIU. BSEIU was mostly made up of immigrant janitors and window washers in its early years–workers who were excluded from other unions at the time.  BSEIU faced opposition from building owners, the courts, and even other unions, but managed to quickly grow from 200 members in 1921 to 250,000 by 1960.

Our own Local 1 was the first local and today we continue to unite janitors, security officers, and other property service workers for justice at the workplace and in our communities under the name SEIU.
SEIU as a whole now encompasses 2.2 million janitors, nursing home workers, nurses, child care providers, security officers, county and city workers, and other workers. We are the fastest-growing union in North America.

Local 1 members keep our buildings and communities safe and clean. SEIU members across the country keep our families healthy, care for our children and our elderly, and provide quality city and state services.

We stand up for justice and for civil rights for all–for immigrants, for women, for LGBT workers, for people of color, for all workers–because we know that’s the only way we can move our country forward.

These are all proud parts of our history. And today we are still uniting for the same things that brought those flat janitors together nine decades ago–a good job that supports a family and includes healthcare, a secure retirement after a career of hard work, safe and livable communities, and a better future for our children.


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