|Born||August 5, 1948|
|Residence||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Alma mater||Williams College|
|Known for||Founder of ACORN|
Wade Rathke (born August 5, 1948) founded the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 100. He was ACORN's chief organizer from its founding in 1970 until June 2, 2008. He is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Social Policy, a quarterly magazine for scholars and activists. The magazine's publishing arm has published three of his books.
Rathke and his partner, Beth Butler, live in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Rathke graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, Louisiana. He attended Williams College, a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from 1966 to 1968. While there, Wade organized draft resistance for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and later organized welfare recipients in Springfield and Boston, Massachusetts for the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO).
Founding of ACORN
Rathke began his career as an organizer for the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) in Springfield, Massachusetts. After working with the NWRO, he left for Little Rock, Arkansas to found a new organization designed to unite poor and working-class families around a common agenda. As founder and chief organizer of ACORN, Rathke's first organizing hire was Gary Delgado among many notable community and labor organizers over the years.
This community organizing initiative in Arkansas eventually grew into the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the largest organization of lower income and working families in the United States, with 175,000 dues-paying families spread across about eighty-two staffed offices in American cities. The ACORN family of organizations includes radio stations (KNON and KABF), publications, housing development and ownership (ACORN Housing), and a variety of other supports for direct organizing and issue campaigns, such as Project Vote and the Living Wage Resource Center. ACORN International has recently opened staffed offices in Lima, Peru, and Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and 11 other countries including India, Kenya, and Italy.
Departure from ACORN
The New York Times reported on July 9, 2008, that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN's founder Wade Rathke, was found to have embezzled $948,607.50 from the group and affiliated charitable organizations back in 1999 and 2000. Wade learned of the problem when an employee of Citizens Consulting, the accounting firm for ACORN, told him an investigation uncovered inappropriate charges that led back to his brother. "Clearly, this was an uncomfortable, conflicting and humiliating situation as far as my family and I were concerned," Wade said, "and so the real decisions on how to handle it had to be made by others." ACORN executives decided to handle it as an internal matter, and did not inform some of the board members, staff or law enforcement, and instead signed an enforceable restitution agreement with the Rathke family to repay the amount of the embezzlement. After the Rathke family had repaid $210,000, in $30,000 installments, a friend of Wade Rathke, Drummond Pike, purchased the promissory note thereby repaying the remaining debt for Dale Rathke. According to the Times, Wade Rathke "said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a 'weapon' into the hands of enemies of Acorn, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to ACORN's often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers." A whistleblower revealed the embezzlement in 2008. On June 2, 2008, Dale Rathke was dismissed, and Wade stepped down that same day as ACORN's chief organizer, but he remains chief organizer for Acorn International L.L.C.
Founding Service Employees International Union Local 100
Rathke is also founder and Chief Organizer of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 100, which is headquartered in New Orleans and also has chapters in Texas. Founded in 1980 in New Orleans as an independent union of Hyatt employees, the union became part of SEIU in 1984. SEIU Local 100 organizes public sector public workers, including school employees, Head Start, and health care workers, as well as lower wage private sector workers in the hospitality, janitorial, and other service industries.
His work in the labor movement includes three terms as Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO. Rathke is the president and co-founder of the SEIU Southern Conference; a member of the International Executive Board of SEIU; and Chief Organizer of the Hotel and Restaurant Organizing Committee (HOTROC) a multi-union organizing project for hospitality workers in New Orleans sponsored by the AFL-CIO and its president, John Sweeney.
In 2000, Rathke created the Organizers' Forum, which brings together senior organizers in labor and community organizations in dialogues about challenges faced by constituency-based organizations, such as tactical development, organizing new immigrants, using technology, utilizing capital strategies and corporate campaign techniques, or understanding the impacts and organizing challenges of globalization. The Organizers' Forum international dialogues have involved more than 300 organizers over the last 10 years with visits to Brazil, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Australia, and Egypt creating a global network of union and community organizers.
In 2011 Rathke purchased the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse in New Orleans, the only 100% fair trade coffeehouse in the city for the last 10 years and the coffeehouse voted #1 in New Orleans in the readers poll of the weekly Gambit Magazine. Rathke set up the ownership as a low-profit limited liability corporation (L3C) to operate as a "social venture" business donating profits and available gross revenues to support organizing in developing countries, including South and Central America where the coffee is imported. Fair Grinds under Rathke now gets its fair trade directly from the Port of New Orleans to benefit local jobs and union workers and roasts locally as well
He is the author of the 2009 book Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families. He is also the author of "The Battle for the Ninth Ward: ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster"  published on the sixth anniversary of Katrina on August 29, 2011, and editor of "Global Grassroots: Perspectives on International Organizing,"  also released in the summer of 2011 by Social Policy Press, which lists him as its publisher.
- Strom, Stephanie (July 9, 2008). "Funds Misappropriated at 2 Nonprofit Groups". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
- Nolan, Bruce (2009-09-20). "ACORN goes on the defensive as it battles a string of scandals". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved 2009-09-20.
- Rathke, Wade. "Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer at ACORN". LinkedIn. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
- Wade Rathke Executive Profile American City Business Journals[dead link]
- Strom, Stephanie (August 16, 2008). "Head of Foundation Bailed Out Nonprofit Group After Its Funds Were Embezzled". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
- "For ACORN, Video Is Only Latest Crisis". The Washington Post. September 20, 2009. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
- "Community Activist Will Practice What He Preaches at New Orleans Coffeehouse," by John Pope, The Times-Picayune, August 28, 2011.
- Wade Rathke (2009). Citizen Wealth. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57675-862-5.
- Wade Rathke (2011). The Battle for the Ninth Ward. Social Policy Press. ISBN 978-0-615-52501-3.
- Wade Rathke, ed. (2011). Global Grassroots. Social Policy Press. ISBN 978-0-615-50588-6.
- "Our Products". Social Policy Press. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- Chief Organizer Blog
- ACORN International
- Tides Foundation
- SEIU Local 100
- Social Policy Magazine
- WSJ Article about Rathke
- Saul ... Time to Step Aside by Drummond Pike, June 25, 2008