Action Now is a Chicago-based left-wing activist organization that promotes the interests of labor unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It was created in 2007 when leaders, staff and supporters of ACORN Chicago left the scandal-plagued, left-wing activist national group, which would fold in 2010. 
Founding executive director Madeline Talbott said she intended for Action Now to “act like a union” and that the organization’s goal was to develop the ability to take “all downtown workers” in Chicago out on a general strike. 
Founding and History
Action Now was founded by former ACORN Chicago executive director Madeline Talbott. Talbott left the national ACORN group in 2008 with staff and board members to launch a local organization that would allow them to continue supporting left-wing priorities without the distractions of ACORN’s scandals.  
Talbott is a long-time Chicago activist who had been allied with and supported Barack Obama when he was a “community organizer” in the city.  During Obama’s first run for public office, she called him “a kindred spirit, a fellow organizer.” 
Years after leaving Action Now, Talbott wrote for an audience of left-wing organizers that her original plan for the organization was to have “hundreds and then thousands of dues-paying members on automatic monthly payments through their debit card or bank account,” and that Action Now’s advocacy for increased minimum wages, paid sick leave and other policies were tactics to help reach her ultimate goal: “Demand a union for all downtown workers, and, over time, build the ability to take a majority of workers out on strike to win it.” 
Talbott retired in 2012 and Katelyn Johnson, who had been leading the affiliated Action Now Institute, took over as executive director.  Johnson led Action Now until 2019.  The current executive director is Deborah Harris, who described herself in an interview with the left-wing Woods Fund of Chicago as “part of the original ground team for the Brett Kavanaugh fight.” 
Service Employees International Union
Action Now founder Madeline Talbott is the wife of Keith Kelleher, a long-time Chicago-area organizer and executive for the Service Employees International Union. When his wife launched Action Now in 2007, Kelleher was a health care industry organizer for the SEIU in Illinois, where he had led the effort to have home health aides who received payments from Medicaid classified as public employees by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) in 2003.  This allowed the SEIU to impose mandatory fees on those workers, a mechanism that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2014. 
Talbott relied on the SEIU’s support to grow Action Now, saying “It would not be built in a year, but the SEIU funding gave us hope that it could be built over time.”  Between 2009 and 2021, SEIU Healthcare annual reports with the U.S. Department of Labor detailed $1,722,017 in payments and grants to Action Now. 
The relationship between the two organizations was so close that when the union moved to new office space in 2012, it donated the furniture and fixtures from its old offices to Action Now. 
Action Now Institute
Action Now shares staff and offices with the Action Now Institute, a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit. The Action Now Institute has received funding from the Marguerite Casey Foundation,  Chicago Teachers Union Foundation,  Woods Fund of Chicago and other major left-of-center donors. 
Action Now PAC
Action Now launched a political action committee in 2015 that received $53,803.09 in contributions, all from the SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana PAC.  Action Now and the SEIU supported left-wing then-Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D) in his race for Mayor of Chicago against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D).
Action Now PAC’s filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections detailed that the PAC spent $33,014 on “contract/professional fees” in that election, of which $16,800 was distributed as “consultant fees” in 168 envelopes containing $100 each in cash. 
Emanuel defeated Garcia, winning reelection by a 56.2% to 43.8% margin. 
The Action Now PAC transferred the $12,270.53 remaining in its bank account to the Action Now Institute in December 2015 and ceased operations in January 2016. 
Action Now supports policies that align with organized labor priorities. These include requiring employers to provide paid sick leave,  opposing efforts to address teacher shortages by allowing states to hire highly qualified teachers who are working toward certification,  and opposing non-unionized public charter schools.
Action Now co-authored a 2015 study with the left-of-center Center for Popular Democracy criticizing the 16 charter schools in the state that were outside the control of Chicago Public Schools and calling for a moratorium on new charters.  At the time, fewer than 5,000 children in the state attended such independent charter schools. 
Fight for $15
Action Now was deeply involved in the initial development of the Fight for $15 campaign; reports indicated that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was providing financial support to the group to prepare to stage the initial demonstrations as early as 2011. By the end of 2012, SEIU had provided Action Now with over $3 million in funds to support union organizing, with almost $2 million earmarked for Fight for $15.  
The left-wing newspaper In These Times chronicled how organizers hired by Action Now had been told the minimum wage campaign was grassroots-based, but that “while SEIU maintains that Fight for 15 is a bottom-up project, the organizers who did the legwork concluded that SEIU funded and directed it from early on.” 
Years later, Talbott admitted that the minimum wage increase was secondary to the true purpose of the campaign, which was to increase union membership. “I didn’t want to advertise that this was really a union drive, for fear the employers would catch wind of it,” she wrote in 2020.  However, the campaign failed to achieve that strategy. “As a minimum wage campaign, it has been masterful. As a union building campaign, it was not,” she wrote.