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SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records

Identifier: LR001542

Scope and Content

The collection contains an assortment of correspondence, internal memorandum, telegrams, speeches and testimony, agenda and programs to events, meeting minutes, press releases, newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, constitutions and by-laws, internal reports, studies, resolutions, merger/affiliation agreements, grievances, press releases, National Labor Relations Board decisions and orders, bulletins, newsletters, draft legislation, financial statements, publications, trusteeship orders and reports, flyers, organizing plans, questionnaires, surveys, talking points, death gratuity claims, per capita tax forms, convention/conference proceedings, legal documents, strike sanctions among other records.

The SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records is the largest SEIU collection housed at the Reuther Library with some records spanning back to the inception of the union in 1921. It contains files documenting the activities of local unions, joint councils and other SEIU affiliates. These files contain material to and from the international and affiliates in addition to material the international kept about affiliates. In addition, the files of SEIU executive board members, vice presidents, divisions, departments and staff members are also found within the collection, often within series identified in this manner.

SEIU’s departments and divisions are documented within Series VIII, which contain files of SEIU’s departments and the key people that work within them. Researchers can also review records documenting the meetings, hearings, conventions and conferences Sweeney attended and at which he often spoke or testified, which are located in series IX, although draft speeches are also located in Series XVI. Also located in the collection are records reflecting Sweeney’s interest in healthcare reform (Series XII) as well as material documenting most of the conventions SEIU held during and before Sweeney’s tenure as president (Series XI). The Convention Series documents some of the major policy shifts that transpired within the organization during Sweeney’s presidency, including the 1984 reorganization where the Sweeney administration established a division structure. The convention series also contains material regarding another significant initiative: the Committee on the Future, a committee initiated to make the union a more effective voice for working people. However, this initiative is also documented in a series of its own (Series X). The General Files Series XVI will interest those researchers interested in SEIU’s external relationships with the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations, amongst other groups.

Labor historians and others interested in either John Sweeney, the history of SEIU and related subjects, will benefit from conducting research within these records.

Important Subjects: AFL-CIO AFSCME Civil Rights Civil Service Collective bargaining – County employees Collective bargaining – Government employees Collective bargaining – Health Facilities – United States Collective bargaining – Hospitals –United States Collective bargaining – Municipal Employees – United States Collective bargaining – Physicians Collective bargaining – Police Collective bargaining – Service industries Collective bargaining – State government employees – United States Collective labor agreements Collective labor agreements – Government employees – United States Collective labor agreements – Hospitals – United States Collective labor agreements – Municipal employees Collective labor agreements – Nurses Collective labor agreements – Service industries Financial statements Grievance arbitration Industrial relations Janitors Labor laws and legislation Labor unions – law and legislation Labor unions – organizing Nursing homes Public service employment Race tracks Service Employees International Union Service industries Social workers Strike votes Strike and lockouts Trade-unions – consolidations Trade-unions – Service industries workers Unfair labor practices United States. National Labor Relations Board Veterans’ hospitals Welfare funds (Trade-union)

Important Names: Asher, Lester Bednarczyk, Betty Bevona, Gus Blake, Martell Buckley, Joseph Burger, Anna Butler, Walter Cordtz, Richard Dale, Alice Donahue, Thomas Duvall, Louis Earls, Marc Ford, Patricia Gohier, Aime Hardy, George Hearn, Albert Kirkland, Lane Lerner, Stephen Lyons, Kenneth Mayer, Leo McFadden, Ophelia Moats, Eugene Monahan, Patrick Moore, Robert Murphy, Joseph Murphy, Richard Nussbaum, Karen Ottley, Peter Policicchio, Paul Roscoe, Stanley Roscoe, Ted Roselli, Sal Ruff, Jackie Solari, Yolanda Stern, Andrew Stodghill, William Sweeney, John Thomas, Patricia Trump, Rosemary Twomey, Timothy Varacalli, Paul Welsh, Robert Woodruff, Tom
Series Description: Series I: Local Union Files, 1980-1995 The series contains correspondence, memos, internal reports, clippings, handwritten notes, constitutions and by-laws, agenda, meeting minutes, programs to events, pleadings, merger/affiliation agreements/authorizations, telegrams, strike sanction requests, local audits, press releases, National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) decisions/orders, subsidy requests and reports, speeches, hearing officer notices, orders, decisions and reports of trusteeships, grievances, flyers, announcements, officer lists, boycott petitions, pension health and welfare plans, per capita delinquency letters/forms, organizing expense reports, bulletins, newsletters, petitions for mergers, member complaints, draft legislation, agreements, NLRB complaints/notices, settlement agreements, charges against and appeals of members/stewards/officers, financial statements, investment reports, local union publications, brochures, pamphlets, local union election notices, and organizing plans.

Series II: Joint Council Files, 1980-1992 The series contains correspondence, internal memorandum, research reports, grievances, conference programs, political action workbooks, speeches, organizational charts, meeting announcements, proposals, campaign contribution lists, trusteeship orders and reports, statements of receipts and expenses, brochures, anniversary programs, pleadings, constitutions and by-laws, financial statements/reports, legislative reports and updates, officer lists, subsidy lists, annual reports, convention resolutions, notices and orders, newsletters, telegrams, handwritten notes, department of labor organization annual reports, clippings, flyers, bulletins, legislative candidate vote records, programs to seminars, agenda, audit reports, per capita reports.

Series III: State Council Files, 1979-1992 The series contains correspondence, memorandum, annual convention reports and proceedings, membership bulletins, newsletters, financial reports/audits/statements, public safety salary comparisons, agenda, minutes, clippings, legislative reports, legislation, statements of receipts and disbursements, flyers, legislative summaries, legislative updates, legislative reports, retirement plans, press releases, organizing reports, conference resolutions, handwritten notes, constitution and by-laws, conference programs, monthly reports, membership statistics, budgets, telegrams, subsidy reports, and executive board reports, executive board planning material, affiliation agreements, pension plans, membership reports and statistics, speeches, conference reports, and organizers manuals.

Series IV: Public Sector Division Local Union Files, 1971-1994 The series contains mostly correspondence, memorandum, and affiliation agreements, but also reports, an assortment of pay schedules, flyers, subsidy requests and reports, newsletters, employment reports, bulletins, orders extending trusteeships, wage and benefit analyses, pleadings, clippings, handwritten notes, reports on privatization, clippings, agenda, per capita tax reports, merger agreements, collective bargaining agreements, newsletters, publications, petitions, constitutions and by-laws, financial statements, survey results, trusteeship reports, settlement agreements, pleadings, budget analysis, memorandum of agreement, per capita tax forms, and organizing plans.

Series V: Public Sector Division Subject Files, 1973-1994 The series mostly contains correspondence, memorandum, affiliation agreements, constitutions and by-laws, reports agenda, and meeting minutes, but also clippings, handwritten notes, trial transcripts, newsletters, handbooks, pleadings, AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees Policy Statements and Resolutions, reports, auditors report, budgets, settlement agreements, meeting notes, strategic planning material, affiliation proposals, annual reports, privatization overviews, organizing plans and testimony.

Series VI: Executive Board Members, 1980-1994 The series mostly contains correspondence, memorandum, and monthly activity reports, but a smattering of clippings and pleadings.

Series VII: Vice President Files, 1980-1994 The series comprise monthly activity reports, correspondence, memorandum, clippings, organizing reports, and legal documents.

Series VIII: Departmental Files, 1980-1994 The series comprise correspondences, memorandum, reports, agenda, minutes, activity reports, proposals, studies, clippings, speeches, and telegrams.

Series IX: Speeches, Testimonies and Statements of John Sweeney and Meetings attended by Sweeney, 1979-1995 The series comprise speeches, mostly of Sweeney but a few of Richard Cordtz and others. Also included are testimonies, statements, programs to events, agenda, meeting minutes, correspondence, memos, telegrams, reports, background material to events, press releases, clippings, attendance lists, conference and convention resolutions, constitutions and by-laws, and constitutional amendments.

Series X: Committee on the Future, 1992-1995 At the 1992 International Convention, SEIU embarked on an ambitious journey to make the union more effective voice for working people in the years ahead with the creation of the Committee on the Future. Subsequently, President Sweeney appointed a committee of 19 members, all leaders of local unions, drawn from the five divisions and different regions and representing large and small locals. This series reflect the work done regarding this committee. The series comprise agenda, minutes, fact/information sheets, worksite visit reports, resolutions, correspondence, memos, reports, audio tapes, membership profiles, proposals, statistics, questionnaires, surveys, clippings, and articles

Series XI: International Conventions, 1921-1992 The series contains correspondence, memos, photos, convention programs and proceedings, reports, constitutions and by-laws, convention badges, lists of standings of locals, resolutions, officers reports, clippings, brochures, convention calls, pamphlets, proposed amendments to constitutions, legislation, credentials, delegate lists, agenda, questionnaires, committee lists, committee recommendations, speeches, brochures, policy resolutions, and budgets.

Series XII: Healthcare, 1986-1994 The series contains legislation, correspondence, memos, reports, press releases, handwritten notes, agenda, speeches, remarks, clippings, statements, pamphlets, brochures, bulletins, summaries, studies, proposals, plans, resolutions, evaluations, talking points, and flyers.

Series XIII: International Travel/Affairs, 1982-1995 The series contains agenda, correspondence, memorandum, reports, clippings, handwritten notes, programs, speeches, press releases, statements, background material, itineraries, testimony, studies, and talking points.

Series XIV: Appeals, Hearings and Pollings of the International Executive Board, 1990-1993 The series contains correspondence, memoranda, reports of hearing officers, notices of hearings, minutes, reports and recommendations, appeal notices, legal documents, transcripts, and executive board polls.

Series XV: Microfilm, 1921-1953 The series contains 65 16mm microfilm reels of local per capita tax forms, death gratuity/benefit claims, vouchers, petty cash records, miscellaneous receipts, expense accounts and receipt books.

Series XVI: General Files, 1970-1995 The series contain correspondence, memos, agreements, clippings, brochures, speeches, affiliation agreement summaries, membership profiles, handwritten and printed notes, minutes, legal documents, reports, studies, agenda, speeches, statements, telegrams, press releases, corporate profiles, financial statements, resolutions, financial reports, convention/conference proceedings, testimony, legislative reports, constitutions, fact sheets, policy statements, affiliation agreements, invitations, publications, flyers, budgets, pension plans, proposals, manuals, leaflets, legal documents, legislation, surveys, and a reel-to-reel audio tape.


  • 1921 - 1995


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials.


For many, John Sweeney is known as the now former head of the AFL-CIO, a position from which he retired in 2009 after 14 years of service. For most of the previous 35 years, though, he was a member turned officer of the Service Employees International Union, having served 15 of those years as its President.

Sweeney’s tenure with SEIU began as a cemetery worker with Local 365, but he left SEIU for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) before returning and rising through the ranks of SEIU Local 32B located in New York City. Ultimately, he was elected that local’s president, which, under his leadership, merged with Local 32J. With this background, he moved into the office of SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer in 1980, a position he would hold for only six months before ascending to the office of International President upon the retirement of George Hardy. His initial years as SEIU President coincided with the presidency of Ronald Reagan whose tax cuts and dismissal of Air Traffic Controllers marked him and his presidency as anti labor. Similarly, the Reagan-controlled National Labor Relations Board worked against the efforts of SEIU and organized labor generally.

Even as the ranks of organized labor suffered declines during Sweeney’s tenure as SEIU President, the union reached the million-member mark eleven years into his presidency, a milestone Sweeney had vowed to make. Nowhere did SEIU’s ranks grow more rapidly than in the ranks of its public sector membership where a number of independent public employee unions and associations affiliated with SEIU. Membership among healthcare employees also increased during his presidency.

Sweeney reorganized the union in 1984, creating building service, healthcare, clerical, public and allied and industrial divisions in order to better accommodate its diverse membership. These divisions benefited from expanded research and organizing departments that Sweeney established and with this support, the union pursued campaigns that allowed SEIU to grow in strength during an era characterized by antagonism toward unions.


178 Linear Feet (178 SB)


For many, John Sweeney is known as the now former head of the AFL-CIO, a position from which he retired in 2009 after 14 years of service. For most of the previous 35 years, though, he was a member turned officer of the Service Employees International Union, having served 15 of those years as its President. The SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records document his tenure during these 15 years, although portions of these records predate his tenure in that office.

The records contain files documenting the activities of SEIU local unions, joint councils and other SEIU affiliates. In addition, the files of SEIU executive board members, vice presidents, divisions, departments and staff members are also found within the collection, often within series identified in this manner. Researchers can also review records documenting the meetings, hearings, conventions and conferences Sweeney attended and at which he often spoke or testified. Records documenting SEIU's conventions from its inception in 1921 until 1992 are also found within these records. The records of the conventions reveal the major policy shifts of the union. Sweeney's interest in healthcare are also found within these records in addition to the union's external relationships with labor organizations and others.


The records are arranged in sixteen series - Series I (Boxes 1-71) is arranged numerically by local union number. Series II (Boxes 71-74) is mostly arranged by joint council number. Series III (Boxes 74-78) is not arranged in a particular order. Series IV (Boxes 78-81) is arranged numerically by local union number. Series V (Boxes 81-87) is arranged in alphabetical order. Series VI (Boxes 88-92) is arranged alphabetically. Series VII (Boxes 92-96) is arranged by time periods (i.e., 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986-1987, 1988, 1989-1990, and 1991-1994) and then alphabetically within those time periods. Series VIII (Boxes 96-108) is arranged by time periods (i.e., 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983-1986, 1987, 1988, 1989-1994) and then alphabetically by person or name of department within those time periods. Series IX (Boxes 108-135) is arranged chronologically by date of the event. Series X (Boxes 135-138) is arranged alphabetically. Series XI (Boxes 138-148) is arranged in numerical order by convention year. However, there is no particular arrangement with the files documenting each convention. Series XII (Boxes 148-153) is not arranged according to a particular order. Series XIII (Boxes 153-154) is arranged chronologically according to the date of the travel. Series XIV (Boxes 154-155) is not arranged according to a particular order. Series XV (Box 156) contains 65 16mm microfilm reels and is not arranged according to any particular order. Series XVI (Boxes 157-178) is arranged alphabetically.


The Executive Office of the Service Employees International Union Records were first deposited by SEIU at the Reuther Library in 1993. Subsequent deposits occurred in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2005 when SEIU shipped additional material to the Archives. The Reuther Library serves as the official repository for SEIU.

Related Materials

SEIU Executive Office Microfilm Records, SEIU Executive Office: William McFetridge Records, SEIU Executive Office: David Sullivan Records, SEIU Executive Office: George Hardy Records, SEIU Historical Records, SEIU/International Jewelry Workers’ Union Records, SEIU International Vice-Presidents Records, SEIU Secretary- Treasurer’s Office: International Executive Board Records, SEIU Local 32B-32J Records, SEIU Publications, SEIU Research Department Historical Records, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer’s Office: Constitutions and By-Laws Records, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer’s Office: Affiliate Officers Records.”

The “SEIU Charter Book,” which contains the dates of charters, dissolutions, charter revocations, and mergers of SEIU affiliates, is located behind the reference desk in the reading room of the Walter P. Reuther Library.

Records associated with Sweeney’s tenure as AFL-CIO President should be located at the George Meany Memorial Archives in Silver Spring, MD, home of the records of the AFL-CIO.


Some photographs and oversize items such as posters and banners were transferred to the Reuther’s Audiovisual Department.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Louis Jones on December 21, 2010.
Guide to the SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records
Processed by Louis Jones.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA