TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Equality is a Labor Value

Guest Blogger: Mary Kay Henry

The fight for the freedom to marry is dear to me, for safeguarding my own partnership and for realizing the same goals of social and economic justice that we advance every day at SEIU and in the labor movement.

I have worked for thirty years to ensure that health caregivers--nurses, technicians, ambulance drivers, home care workers--can do their jobs safely giving high-quality service to people in their communities while having a say in their working lives and their government.

Even in hard economic times, the health care sector continues to add jobs. And even though caregivers’ votes, along with those of other working people, have won elections--even though we have put important allies in power, such as President Obama--caregivers don’t have as decisive a voice as we might want in our economy or in establishing and protecting equal rights at the federal and state level.

But through SEIU, the conscience of caregivers and working families speaks loudly and clearly. We are the largest union in North America, uniting more than 2 million members. Five years ago, at our International Convention in 2004, we made winning equal rights and benefits for all our members a priority in bargaining and legislative campaigns at every level of our union.

We passed a resolution supporting marriage equality. In it, we committed to opposing any laws and constitutional amendments that deny equal rights. We will continue to stand against any campaign or candidate who uses antigay, anti-union, anti-worker policies as a wedge to divide our communities or states.

In the past year, we made good on these commitments on several fronts, including the landmark quest to gain, preserve, and now win back marriage equality in California. We cheered the court ruling for equal marriage in Connecticut, and we will assist in future drives to secure and defend this indispensable form of equal protection.

My union’s motto, “stronger together,” applies not simply to the strength that health caregivers and other workers enjoy by joining forces through a union. It applies to our union’s broader vision of a nation that includes, respects, and rewards each worker, where a CEO and a nursing home caregiver are equal under the law and where our founding ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not a promise for the few, but rather a contract with every American that we work as one to make good for all.

We hope that as we walk forward together, you will find opportunities to add your voice to our own for workers’ freedom to form a union in a climate without coercion or intimidation. It is in this spirit of shared values and timely collaboration that I am proud to support Freedom to Marry in its fight for marriage equality.

***Mary Kay Henry is an International Executive Vice President of SEIU and a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality. SEIU is the largest and fastest growing union in North America. She is the leader of the SEIU Healthcare Division and has devoted her life to helping America's health caregivers form unions, improve their jobs and the quality of care, and advocate for a more rational and humane health care system. She is a founding member of SEIU's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lavender Caucus.