Workers United, SEIU is a labor union and division of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that was founded in 2009 as a result of the dissolution of the merged labor union Unite Here. In March 2009, fifteen regional joint boards of Unite Here voted to leave the union and join the SEIU, forming Workers United.
Workers United is perhaps most notable for controlling Amalgamated Bank, the nation’s only labor-union-owned banking institution and the chosen financial institution of liberal political organizations including the Democratic National Committee.
The union was founded after Bruce Raynor, formerly the head of the garment workers’ faction of Unite Here, lost a power struggle with his former co-president John Wilhelm, head of the hotel workers’ faction. Andy Stern, then-president of the SEIU, invited all of Unite Here to merge into SEIU; Wilhelm’s faction rejected the merger. Raynor’s faction would disaffiliate from Unite Here and form Workers United within SEIU.
Workers United’s prominence fell after Stern retired from SEIU and his ally Anna Burger was outmaneuvered for the SEIU presidency by Mary Kay Henry. Shortly after Henry took control of SEIU, Raynor resigned from Workers United amid allegations of financial misconduct.
Workers United operates within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It consists of a number of “joint boards,” regional and industry-related divisions inherited from its predecessor garment workers’ unions, and those joint boards consist of local labor unions. As of the end of 2017, the union had 86,375 members.
The union’s most notable possession is Amalgamated Bank, the United States’ only labor union-owned banking institution. Amalgamated serves a number of left-wing interest groups, Democratic Party committees, and left-wing political candidates’ committees.
Workers United was formed in 2009 as a splinter faction from Unite Here, which had descended into infighting between its garment workers (UNITE) and hotel workers (HERE) camps. Bruce Raynor, the president of Unite Here who came from the garment workers’ faction, faced ouster in a Unite Here internal election by John W. Wilhelm, the leader of the hotel-workers faction; when Andy Stern, then-leader of the Service Employees International Union, offered to absorb all or part of Unite Here, Raynor accepted. Union locals and joint boards loyal to Raynor (effectively but not entirely or exclusively Raynor’s old garment workers union UNITE) joined Stern’s SEIU, while those loyal to Wilhelm rejoined the AFL-CIO as Unite Here.
The “divorce” between Workers United and Unite Here led to a year of disputes between the unions over organizing jurisdiction (unions typically do not wish to compete with one another for workers to represent and therefore agree spheres of organizing influence based on geographic area, industry, or corporation; “raiding” is the practice of unions attempting to organize workers in another union’s jurisdiction) and control of Amalgamated Bank. Stern, who had reportedly called for UNITE and HERE to join SEIU rather than merge to form Unite Here in 2004, threatened a major raiding campaign on the post-Raynor-defection rump Unite Here’s jurisdiction of hotels, restaurants, and casinos.
Unite Here responded by suing Workers United, while the SEIU spent millions subsidizing Workers United. In July 2010, after over a year of disputes, Workers United and Unite Here agreed to a settlement under which Unite Here would retain control of the old UNITE headquarters building and most of the disputed organizing jurisdictions, while Workers United and SEIU would take control of Amalgamated Bank.
Ouster of Raynor
Workers United president Bruce Raynor was a close ally of SEIU international president Andy Stern; Raynor had led Unite Here into the SEIU-led Change to Win union federation (established to rival the AFL-CIO; Unite Here would return to the AFL-CIO after Workers United joined SEIU). When Stern stepped aside from the SEIU presidency in 2010, Raynor—a member of the SEIU executive committee—backed the candidacy of Stern’s handpicked candidate for successor, then-Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger.
Burger’s rival, Mary Kay Henry, was later chosen to be SEIU president. Henry was reportedly unhappy with the fallout from the absorption of Workers United; shortly after her election, WU and Unite Here agreed to the separation settlement. Henry was reportedly hostile to Raynor: Labor movement sources told the Forward that “Everyone in the labor movement presumed that Bruce’s days were finished at SEIU once [Henry’s election] took place.”
In 2011, Raynor was accused of abusing his expense account; the SEIU initiated internal disciplinary proceedings against him. Raynor denied the charges but resigned from Workers United and the SEIU in April 2011. Pursuant to the terms of Raynor’s resignation agreement, the internal union charges were withdrawn.
Raynor was succeeded as president of Workers United and chair of the board of Amalgamated Bank by Noel Beasley, a career union official then serving as director of Workers United’s Midwest regional operations. In 2016, Beasley retired; Lynne Fox, the manager of Workers United’s Philadelphia Joint Board, replaced him as president of Workers United and chair of Amalgamated Bank.
In 2001, five Cuban intelligence agents were convicted of espionage charges related to an operation by the Castro regime to infiltrate exile community organizations advocating against the Communist regime. The agents became notable in Cuban regime propaganda, and they were celebrated by far-left figures as the “Cuban Five”; two were released at the conclusion of their sentences and three were released as part of the Obama administration’s normalization of relations with the Castro regime.
Workers United officials had strongly advocated for the release of the Cuban spies; Cristina Vazquez, a Workers United international vice president and officer of the Los Angeles Joint Board, solicited petition postcards to be sent to then-President Barack Obama calling for the release of the Cuban spies.
Allegations of Union Raiding
Before the conclusion of the “divorce settlement” with Unite Here, Unite Here-affiliated unions made numerous allegations of “raiding”—one union encroaching on organizing jurisdiction of another union—against Workers United. Some have characterized the formation of Workers United as a raiding event in and of itself, declaring Workers United a “front group” to absorb Unite Here members loyal to Bruce Raynor into SEIU.
Among the Unite Here local unions which alleged “raiding” by SEIU and Workers United was Culinary Local 226, the powerful Las Vegas casino workers union closely aligned with Unite Here leadership. Then-Culinary union boss D. Taylor (now leader of the national Unite Here) alleged that Workers United/SEIU was “clearly trying to divide workers in order to do a raid and a takeover” of his organizing jurisdiction.
The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) made a raiding allegation against Workers United in 2014 regarding New York City laundry workers. ILA represented workers at an industrial laundry that served (among other businesses) the Waldorf-Astoria hotel; Workers United began a campaign to take over the bargaining unit by alleging the ILA formed a company-controlled union.
Workers United, like its predecessor union UNITE, is organized into a series of regional and industry-based “joint boards” which organize local bargaining units.
Philadelphia Joint Board
The Philadelphia Joint Board of Workers United is perhaps the most prominent of the regional joint boards; Workers United national president Lynne Fox serves concurrently as Business Manager of the Philadelphia Joint Board as of 2017. In 2017, the Philadelphia Joint Board reported 2,461 members.
During the divorce between Workers United and Unite Here, the Philadelphia Joint Board was racked by division over whether some bargaining units should have remained in Unite Here, since some hospitality industry bargaining units had been allocated to the Joint Board during the period of the Unite Here merger. The dissent was covered by the jurisdictional settlements in the 2010 WU/Unite Here settlement, allocating hotel, gaming, and some catering employees to Unite Here and allocating textile, laundry, and airport concession workers to Workers United.
Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board
The Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United is the largest joint board by membership, reporting 15,622 members as of 2017. Noel Beasley, Fox’s predecessor as national Workers United president, previously was manager of the Chicago and Midwest Joint Board.
Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board
The Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board based in New Jersey has led a campaign to unionize workers at Amazon distribution centers, hosting left-wing Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at an anti-Amazon rally in December 2018. As of 2017, the Joint Board had 8,604 members.
Lynne Fox is a career union official who currently serves as national president of Workers United, a position which comes with a Vice President’s seat on the board of the Service Employees International Union and the post of chair of Amalgamated Bank. In 2017, Fox received $225,300 in total disbursements from Workers United.
Prior to taking over the national union, Fox led the Philadelphia Joint Board of Workers United (which prior to the formation of WU was the Philadelphia Joint Board of Unite Here). Fox and the Philadelphia Joint Board hosted the convention of former-UNITE unions which voted to form Workers United under the auspices of the SEIU. Unite Here supporters accused Fox of attempting to “deliver all the hotel workers to SEIU on a silver platter.”
Edgar Romney is a longtime UNITE activist from New York City who currently holds the position of Secretary-Treasurer of Workers United. During the 1990s, Romney was allegedly involved in Lucchese crime family corruption of UNITE Local 23-25. An affidavit filed by a Labor Department investigator alleged, “Romney direct[ed] Local 23-25 business agents and organizers […] to put pressure on companies with the threat of unionization or strike and thereafter withdrawing the threat when an agreement with an organized crime family is made, thereby facilitating organized crime control of Garment Center companies.” While a UNITE business agent was convicted, Romney avoided charges.
Romney has continued to advance in UNITE/Unite Here/Workers United since the 1990s; he was Raynor’s “number-two man” in UNITE at the time of the Unite Here merger. He was likewise chosen as Secretary-Treasurer of Change to Win, the SEIU-led rival labor federation to the AFL-CIO in 2005, a position he held until 2009.