John W. Wilhelm is the former president of the Hotel Employees-Restaurant Employees (HERE) union which merged with Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) into Unite Here in 2004. After the departure of Bruce Raynor’s Workers United faction from Unite Here, Wilhelm became president of the remaining Unite Here union. In 2012, Wilhelm stepped aside in favor of Donald “D.” Taylor.
Wilhelm attended Yale and graduated in 1967. Wilhelm began his union leadership career working as an organizer for local HERE unions in Connecticut. Wilhelm is married to Elizabeth B. Gilbertson with whom he has two sons. 1
John Wilhelm began his career in the Hotel Employees-Restaurant Employees union in 1969, when the former Students for a Democratic Society activist was hired to help run a contract campaign among dining staff at Yale University for HERE Local 217. 2
After the federal government instituted a consent decree with HERE to remove alleged Mafia influence from the union in the early 1990s, Wilhelm advanced in the union to the number-two position of secretary-treasurer in 1995. By 1998, then-HERE president Ed Hanley resigned under suspicion and Wilhelm became national union president. 3
In 2004, Wilhelm helped merge HERE with Bruce Raynor’s Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE) into Unite Here. Raynor would lead the merged union as general president with Wilhlem leading the hospitality division (the former HERE). The merger ultimately failed; Raynor-allied unions left Unite Here to form Workers United SEIU, while Wilhelm ascended to lead the rump Unite Here. 4
In 2012, Wilhelm stepped aside as leader of Unite Here. 5 Since his departure, Unite Here has reported paying him as an outside consultant. 6
Wilhelm has advocated for liberal expansionist immigration legislation and support for such legislation from labor unions. Wilhelm worked with SEIU executive vice president Eliseo Medina at the 1999 national AFL-CIO Convention to pass a resolution supporting liberal immigration policy. Wilhelm also participated and spoke at a September 2007 immigration rally which took place at the National Mall. The rally aimed to pressure Congress into increasing labor rights for illegal immigrants and drew high ranking members of multiple left-of-center organizations such as Bruce S. Gordon, former president and CEO of the NAACP, one of the largest left-of-center civil rights organizations in the US; Janet Murguia, President and CEO of National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS), an organization best known for its aggressive fight for expanded rights for illegal immigrants; and Deepak Bhargava, director of Center for Community Change, an illegal immigrant advocacy organization. 7 8
Wilhelm was a speaker at the 2009 Connecticut AFL-CIO Convention. Wilhelm spoke out against large companies such as AT&T and organizations such as the American Red Cross, calling for higher wages and heightened regulation regarding employment. Wilhelm also participated in a March 30, 2011 pro-union rally which aimed to protest labor laws in the Midwest region of the United States. 9 12 13
- “John W. Wilhelm.” UNT. Accessed August 6, 2019. https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/members/wilhelm.html.
- Getman, Julius G. “HERE and Its History.” In Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement, 35-52. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npm2s.9.
- Getman, Julius G. “From Hanley to Wilhelm.” In Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement, 92-100. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npm2s.14.
- Getman, Julius G. “Solidarity Rebuffed.” In Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement, 138-76. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npm2s.18.
- Osorio, Ivan. “UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm To Step Down Following Turbulent Tenure.” Competitive Enterprise Institute, October 17, 2012. https://cei.org/blog/unite-here-president-john-wilhelm-step-down-following-turbulent-tenure.
- Unite Here, Annual Report of a Labor Organization (Form LM-2), 2017, Schedule 19
- “Implications of the SEIU/UniteHere Merger .” Talking Union, Randy Shaw. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/implications-of-the-seiuunitehere-settlement/.
- “Immigration Rally.” C-SPAN. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.c-span.org/video/?194178-1/immigration-rally&start=3938.
- “Wilhelm Fires up Union Convention.” New Haven Independent. https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/wilhelm_fires_up_union_convention/.
- “We are One New Haven!” UNITE HERE. Accessed August 6, 2019. https://unitehere.org/we-are-one-new-haven/. 10
John Wilhelm previously served as a member of the board of directors for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, liberal expansionist immigration advocacy organization. He also served as a member of the executive committee for AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the United States. Wilhelm was also formerly a board member at the Brookings Institution, a large left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C. He worked to increase the organization’s research and discussion in the field of immigration and rights for illegal immigrants. 11 Form 2011 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Catholic Legal Immigration Network. Part VII, Section A: Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, Etc. Wilhelm resigned from all positions with AFL-CIO in 2005.
- “THE IMMIGRANT WORKFORCE AND THE FUTURE OF U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY.” The Brookings Institution. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/20120731_immigrant_workforce.pdf.