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|Full name||Service Employees International Union Healthcare|
|Founded||January 8, 2004|
|Key people||Sharleen Stewart, president|
|Office location||Richmond Hill, Ontario|
Services Employees International Union Healthcare is a trade union in Canada, representing more than 55,000 workers in Ontario and British Columbia. Through collective bargaining, the union represents workers in hospitals, home care, nursing & retirement homes, community services, and other healthcare-based occupations.
SEIU Healthcare has been active in Ontario for over 70 years. In 2004, six SEIU locals merged into one local to provide a higher level of service to its members. Local 1.on (as it was known then) was officially granted status on January 8, 2004. In 2013, the local changed its name to SEIU Healthcare to reflect the work its members provide to patients, residents and clients. Ever since the merger in 2004, SEIU Healthcare has grown by over 17,000 members, a 45 percent increase. 2014 marks the ten-year anniversary of this merger.
The President of SEIU Local 1 Canada is Sharleen Stewart, who was re-elected for a four-year term at its provincial convention in Hunstville, Ontario in November 2011.
SEIU Healthcare is one of three locals who are affiliated with SEIU Canada, the national union representing over 125,000 workers throughout Canada. SEIU Canada is a part of SEIU, an international union representing more than 2.1 million workers throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Originally known as the Building Service Employees International Union, the union established its first two locals in Montreal and Vancouver in 1943. Members at these two locals were mainly elevator operators, window cleaners, janitors and other maintenance employees in commercial buildings.
SEIU started organizing healthcare workers in Ontario hospitals in the early 1940s. Many other unions tried to organize this sector with little success. SEIU continued its efforts and formed Canada’s first hospital local at the Toronto General Hospital in 1944, and went on to organize four hospitals in Thunder Bay in 1946.
SEIU continued to expand in hospitals and nursing homes. In the early 1980s SEIU helped protect nursing home jobs from outsourcing, won a pension plan for thousands of nursing home workers worth over $304-million in assets, and stopped the Ontario Government from passing a law that would restrict yearly wage increases.
In the mid-1990s SEIU took the Ontario Government to court after the Progressive Conservatives tried to limit Ontario’s pay equity legislation. This legal action pressured the government in June 2003 to commit up to $414 million in pay equity funding for 100,000 women across Ontario.
In 1998 SEIU’s national executive and local presidents across Canada created a working group to examine ways to strengthen SEIU’s structure in Canada. Dubbed the “November Group”, this body put forward a proposal that would give SEIU Canada and its local’s greater autonomy in its decision-making, financial structures and the establishment of their strategic goals.  However, some of SEIU’s leaders did not agree with the November Group’s proposals. They responded by resigning and supporting the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) raid on SEIU work units in Ontario in 2000. After the dust had settled, the overwhelming majority of SEIU members rejected the CAW’s and chose to stay with SEIU.
SEIU’s Ontario locals began to work together to strengthen SEIU in Canada. In October 2003, the locals voted to merge its health care and community service members into one provincial local named SEIU Local 1.on. SEIU’s members approved this decision by a 90% majority. SEIU International issued a charter for SEIU Local 1.on on January 8, 2004 and approved the new local’s constitution on March 26, 2004.
The Heart of Healthcare
In 2013 SEIU unveiled a new name, brand and logo. The new name, SEIU Healthcare, makes a statement about the union and its commitment to healthcare in the interest of all Canadians. The new tagline for the brand is The Heart of Healthcare, which emphasizes the valuable role SEIU members play in our healthcare system. The tagline is also intentional in that it aims to create awareness amongst politicians and the general public that the workers SEIU Healthcare represents are the heart of Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system. And so, the union’s focus isn’t just on protecting worker’s rights. SEIU Healthcare wants to enhance, protect and strengthen our publicly funded healthcare system and give its members the tools to care for patients, residents and clients.
SEIU Healthcare is one of the few unions whose membership numbers have grown over the past decade. Since 2004, SEIU has grown from 38,000 to over 55,000 members today – a 45% increase that is due to the union’s significant investment into organizing new workers in the healthcare sector.
Nearly 160 units have voted to join SEIU Healthcare since 2004. One of SEIU’s notable organizing campaigns focused on Chartwell retirement homes. From 2006 to 2008, 20 units representing nearly 600 Chartwell workers joined SEIU.
SEIU was also able to recruit members in nursing and retirement homes whose staff and residents are predominantly of Chinese origin. Many unions have tried to organize these homes in the past with little success. In 2010 over 1,200 workers at seven predominately Chinese long-term care homes in the Greater Toronto Area joined SEIU.
Some of the margins of victory at individual unit votes have been quite high. 100 percent of the workers at Centennial Retirement in Toronto voted SEIU in December 2010. On October 4, 2011, 100 percent of the employees at a Chartwell retirement home in Thunder Bay voted to join SEIU. 95 percent of the staff at Ivan Franko Home in Toronto voted to join SEIU in July 2011. In 2012, over 330 employees at Vita Community Living, a series of group homes located throughout the Greater Toronto Area, voted by a wide margin to join SEIU.
SEIU has run numerous campaigns to improve the living and working conditions of healthcare employees across Ontario. Working with several other labour unions, SEIU launched a campaign called Needlestick to pressure the Ontario government into introducing workplace safety laws that mandating the use of safety engineered needles in five provinces throughout the country.
SEIU launched its Fight4Ontario campaign in 2012 to raise awareness of the disparity in Ontario’s wealth. The goal was to bring more power and higher wages to Ontario’s workers, in recognition of their contribution to Ontario’s economy.
In 2013 the union ran a campaign called Fulfill the Promise to build public support to improve our homecare system.
SEIU Healthcare launched a public advocacy campaign called Justice 4 PSWs in late 2013. The campaign put pressure on Red Cross to negotiate a fair collective agreement for SEIU members who work for the organization. After a 17-day strike, both SEIU and Red Cross agreed to go to arbitration. On January 3, 2014 Arbitrator William Kaplan determined a three-year contract with wage increases and other improvements to their working conditions.
Recognizing the connection between healthcare legislation and employee’s rights, SEIU Healthcare has increased its focus on politics. The goal is to educate the public, politicians and union members about the importance of strengthening our healthcare system and our labour laws.
The union played an important role in the Ontario provincial election on October 6, 2011. SEIU Healthcare mobilized hundreds of members across the province to contact voters in key ridings to encourage them to vote and support the political candidate who is most likely to strengthen Ontario’s public healthcare system and improve the collective bargaining process. They repeated this operation again during the provincial election in 2014 with considerable success.
These by elections really crystallized SEIU as a force in Ontario politics.
In the 2015 Federal election, SEIU Healthcare is also playing an important role in helping elect a progressive candidate in many ridings across Ontario.
- "SEIU Local 1 Canada website". SEIU’s History. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- "Straight Goods". Anatomy of A Raid SEIU Canada tells its story. Retrieved 2000-10-30. Check date values in:
- Don Stillman. 2010. Stronger Together: The Story of SEIU. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 187
- "Straight Goods". Anatomy of A Raid: SEIU Canada tells its story. Retrieved 2000-10-30. Check date values in: