Founding: Building a Voice for Low-Wage Workers
In 1980, United Labor Unions (ULU) was established by ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) in response to the pressing issues faced by its members in Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans. These members, employed in hospitals, homecare, manufacturing, laundry, hotels, and restaurants, were working low-paying jobs without proper representation from existing unions. Recognizing the need for an organization that would fight for their rights, ACORN members voted to found United Labor Unions, creating local unions in these cities.
Early Wins: Paving the Way for Change
ULU faced numerous challenges as it ventured into uncharted territory. Organizers applied community organizing techniques in workplaces that had long been abandoned by other unions. They also entered new occupations, such as home health care and home day care, which were rapidly expanding in their communities.
Despite the hurdles, ULU achieved significant victories. In Philadelphia, the union won an election in a rag factory by an overwhelming majority of 86 to 2, leading to their local number becoming 861. In Boston, ULU secured their first unfair filing settlement, amounting to $1472, which became the local number there. In Detroit, the members adopted the memorable triple-deuce, identifying themselves as Local 222. ULU also achieved its first collective bargaining contract at the Burger King located in the Greyhound bus station. In New Orleans, the union won a fiercely contested election at the Hyatt Regency hotel, resulting in the creation of a unit comprising 350 housekeepers, laundry workers, bell stand staff, and concierge employees. Despite a seven-year struggle and appeals to higher courts, the workers prevailed with the Supreme Court ruling in their favor.
SEIU Affiliation: Expanding Horizons
ULU’s success in organizing workers across different cities led to its growth beyond the capacity of ACORN. To ensure the union’s continued progress, ULU affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 1984. As part of this affiliation, the Detroit and Philadelphia locals merged with other SEIU locals, while the Boston, Chicago (880), and New Orleans (100) locals became separate chartered SEIU locals. ULU also absorbed SEIU Local 275 in Louisiana. This affiliation provided organizing subsidies and waived per capita payments, enabling the three remaining locals to expand their reach.
Local 100: Diverse Sectors, Significant Achievements
Following the Hyatt Regency election, Local 100 broadened its representation to encompass various worker groups. This included janitorial and cafeteria subcontractors in federal buildings under the Service Contract Act. However, Local 100’s most substantial presence was in the privatized food service sector at Tulane University.
During the SIEU merger, Local 100 made significant progress in organizing nursing homes owned by ARA Services. While affiliation issues impeded one particular organizing drive, the efforts inspired further organization in nursing homes around Louisiana, including Shreveport, Natchitoches, Napoleonville, and Gonzales. Another merger added the parimutuel clerks at the Fair Grounds Racetrack in New Orleans to Local 100, along with the organization of janitorial companies in the city’s central business district.
Collaboration with the Operating Engineers, Teamsters, Local 100, and ACORN gave rise to TEAM (Teamsters, Engineers, ACORN Movement), aiming to build on the victory in the Hyatt election, focusing on New Orleans’ hotels and hospitality industry. While facing resource and staff limitations, TEAM secured union elections at the Fontainebleau hotel and established neighborhood organizations that addressed issueswhere hotel and hospitality workers resided. However, the campaign faced setbacks due to a decline in hotel development and tourism following the financial difficulties of the 1984 World’s Fair and the impact of 9/11.
1985-1990: Expanding Influence
During the period of 1985-1990, Local 100 continued to make strides in representing workers across various sectors. They successfully represented hospital workers at the Bogalusa Community Hospital and the National Hansen’s Disease Center in Carville, Louisiana. Leveraging their experience with subcontracted workers, they organized weather observers under the Federal Aviation Service (FAS) and the National Weather Service, significantly improving their wages and benefits. Local 100 also expanded its representation to include workers in state facilities such as Delgado Community College, Southern Universities in New Orleans and Shreveport, State Museums, and LSU Medical Center.
The local achieved significant success in representing school support workers and teaching assistants in the East Baton Rouge Schools, janitorial and custodial workers in the Jefferson Parish Schools, and gained extensive membership in the Livingston and Tangipahoa districts. Local 100 also displaced the Teamsters and won an election to represent 1500 workers in the city and parish of East Baton Rouge.
In the late 1980s, Local 100 extended its jurisdiction to Arkansas, following an agreement with then-Governor Bill Clinton, allowing union dues checkoff in state departments under the unified payroll system. They also merged with a small nursing home workers’ local in Texas and the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont. In 1992, with Governor Ann Richards’ support, Local 100 expanded further into Texas, organizing school workers statewide, particularly in Houston and Dallas.
Local 100’s reputation as an innovative organizing union grew, with its involvement in the creation of the SEIU Southern Conference. The Chief Organizer played crucial roles in the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO and the AFL-CIO convention in 1998, electing John Sweeney as the president. As the AFL-CIO emphasized organizing, Local 100 participated in a joint project called HOTROC (Hotel, Hospitality, and Restaurant Organizing Committee) with SEIU, HERE, and the Operating Engineers, targeting the dominant hotel industry in New Orleans. While facing challenges, such as overturned elections and labor practices, HOTROC achieved victories, including contracts with ARA at the Convention Center. Local 100 also secured representation and collective bargaining rights for more than 1200 New Orleans city workers.
Continued Growth and Innovations
Throughout the early 21st century, Local 100 experienced growth and expanded its reach with headquarters in New Orleans, a hall in Baton Rouge, and offices in Little Rock, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Brownsville, and Shreveport. The union reached a peak of approximately 7500 dues-paying members and represented over 25,000 workers in Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. Mergers with the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) in San Antonio and the small nursing home workers local in Texas further contributed to Local 100’s influence.
In the early 2000s, Local 100 presented an organizing plan to SEIU, proposing a merger of community and labor organizing methodologies to build a majority constituency among nonunion mega-employers. Although an alternate plan was adopted, Local 100 was challenged to prove the merits of their proposal. In response, they created a project funded by SEIU, AFL-CIO, and UFCW to organize Walmart workers, the largest employer in the United States. The Chief Organizer left the SEIU board to lead the Walmart project, focusing on supercenters in the I-4 corridor.
Local 100’s reputation as an innovative organizing union continued to grow, with its involvement in the creation of an organizing plan for the 21st century. While facing challenges and setbacks along the way, Local 100 remained dedicated to representing workers and pushing for their rights in various industries. Their expansion, mergers, and successful organizing efforts showcased their commitment to improving working conditions and empowering workers.
From its founding by ACORN in 1980 to its affiliation with SEIU and its continued growth, Local 100 has made a lasting impact on the lives of workers in Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, and beyond.
Join Local 100 United Labor Unions today and be part of a union with a strong history of fighting for workers’ rights. Experience the benefits of collective bargaining, representation, and a supportive community that will stand by your side. Together, we can continue to build a brighter future for workers in our communities.