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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2010

Bank tellers targeted in SEIU effort

BLOOMBERG

The Service Employees International Union is seeking to organize bank tellers in an effort to expand labor representation as U.S. membership falls to a record low, President Mary Kay Henry said two days after her election.

"We want to provide whistleblower protections to tellers who are being pressured to sell products to customers" who can't afford to pay, Ms. Henry said yesterday. Bank workers in Boston have been contacted, she said, without identifying companies targeted by the nation's fastest-growing union.

The SEIU, with about 2.2 million members in the health-care and building service industries, is setting aside $4 million to accelerate organizing in the private sector, where union representation fell to 7.2 percent in 2009. The fund will target industries not typically represented by unions.

Ms. Henry, 52, elected by the SEIU executive board on May 8 to replace Andy Stern, said she wants to focus on broadening union representation at a time when working people "are facing hardships we haven't seen in generations."

A campaign targeting the banking industry would help the SEIU aid the labor movement outside the United States, Ms. Henry said. Financial-service employees are represented by unions in other nations, and organizing U.S. bank employees would let the SEIU "give back" to the international movement, Ms. Henry said.

The union through the labor federation Change to Win also is working with the United Food and Commercial Workers and International Brotherhood of Teamsters to organize grocers, truck drivers, and employees in the supermarket industry.

Ms. Henry is committed to the Employee Free Choice Act, a union-organizing bill that stalled in Congress after opposition from businesses.

Ms. Henry was an executive vice president of SEIU based in Washington. She grew up in the Detroit suburbs and has been an SEIU organizer since 1979.

The SEIU spent $85 million to help elect Democrats to the White House and Congress in 2008.

Ms. Henry pledged to maintain the union's political clout in campaigns for the November elections even as she placed increased emphasis on grass-roots organizing.



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