Making Hope and History Rhyme: A New Worker Movement From the Shell of the Old
In this third decade of the twenty-first century, the U.S. and global working class confront conditions unique both in their potential for advancing justice and in their ability to deepen already gaping economic and racial inequality and planetary peril. Especially since 2020, workers have engaged in protest and organizing in ways that inspire great hope. Workers are angry, organizing, striking, and challenging their bosses and the systemic racism they face. From Red for Ed and teacher strikes, to the strikes at John Deere and Kellogg, and the organizing at Amazon and Starbucks, there are growing examples of workers organizing, standing up, and fighting on a level we have not seen in a long time. And hopeful strategies are emerging too. Workers are organizing in the automobile industry as it transitions to electric vehicles, and innovative organizing initiatives are emerging in tech, retail, banks, and other key sectors of the economy. Adding momentum to these trends, workers and the public are more pro-union than at any time in recent history.
Yet the peril is also undeniable. The world is literally and figuratively on fire—and flooding at the same time. The ice cap is melting, we face growing fascist movements, wealth and race inequality is exploding, and the superrich are flying to space, cruising the ocean in superyachts, and buying up mountain retreats to insulate themselves from the devastation their greed is inflicting on the world. The rich and powerful are making plans to survive and prosper on a debased earth or another planet they colonize. Before it is too late, we need to figure out how to save the planet and organize a movement that can win a multiracial feminist democracy and redistribute wealth and power in a country that protects the environment, ends white supremacy, and works for the many, not the superrich few. Time is running out.
In this context, the editors of New Labor Forum invited us, as two long-time organizers for economic, racial, and gender justice, to reflect on the lessons of the past half-century and assess the strategic challenges and opportunity confronting a new generation of workers, activists, and organizers. Born in the Rust Belt city of Erie, Pennsylvania, Marilyn started in 1975 as a feminist activist in her AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) local in Madison, Wisconsin; became active in her central labor council; and then went to work for AFSCME International, building a brand-new community organizing program. At the George Meany Center, she taught organizing and helped develop the “organizing model of unionism, deepening member ownership of and engagement in their unions” through “Numbers that Count,” a teleconference and training manual conducted nationally with former assistant director of AFL-CIO Field Services, Virginia Diamond. When Ron Carey’s reform slate was elected at the Teamsters, Marilyn became the education director. After John Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO, Marilyn became director of the AFL-CIO’s new Field Mobilization Department, where the Union Cities strategy was launched.
Stephen dropped out of high school in 1974 to work for the United Farm Workers union on the grape and lettuce boycott. He then became an organizer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in the South supporting year-long strikes in South Carolina and Georgia. After working as an organizer for the Communication Workers of America (CWA), Stephen helped launch and lead the Justice for Janitors (JFJ) campaign at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Stephen also served as national organizing director for the Building Trades in the late 1990s.
Can Labor Rise to Meet This Moment?
We have lived through multiple “moments” when a rebirth of unions and a powerful labor movement seemed at hand. Over the past forty years, hundreds of articles with headlines like these heralded labor’s imminent revival: “Growth of Unions Forecast; ‘Increased Militancy Predicted’” (New York Times, January 1980); “Greatly Weakened Labor Unions Show Signs of Making Comeback” (South Florida Sun Sentinel, June 1995); “In Biggest Drive since 1937 Union Gains a Victory” (Wall Street Journal, February 1998); “Big Labor’s Comeback” (New York Times, August 2008). Of course, the “comeback” forecasted in these pieces did not happen.
Knowing that none of those predictions panned out “weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” union leaders, triggering their most cautious instincts, even in this hopeful moment.
Headlines from the past predicting labor’s revival force contemporary labor activists to ask why these past moments did not pan out, what makes this moment distinctive in comparison with the others, and what lessons should we take from the recent past. Answers to these questions show that the past forty years of struggle, experimentation, soaring dreams, and disappointed hopes contain valuable lessons for this moment.
Why Didn’t Labor Make the Most of Past Windows of Opportunity?
Significant ideas and strategies emerged from internal debates that union leaders and organizers engaged in during the past quarter century. Starting in 1989 with the founding of the AFLCIO Organizing Institute to train organizers and through the 1990s, these strategies ranged from calling for unions to put 30 percent of their resources into organizing; to convening the Elected Leader Task force, made up of key union leaders who explored what the internal obstacles to organizing were and how to overcome them; to the Building Trades’ creation of the Committee on Member Education and Training (COMET) program that showed workers how restricting union membership and historical racism in the trades was a central cause of their decline; to Union Cities, which sought to create the conditions to support large-scale organizing and did work within many unions and community organizations.
Growing attention to organizing in turn bred a wide range of different approaches. In this same period, an ongoing debate emerged about whether or not to depend on National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections as the primary method of organizing given that employers so easily violated the law, and since even when workers voted to unionize, they found it increasingly difficult to win first contracts. In response to the difficulty of winning elections, former AFL-CIO Organizing Director Richard Bensinger designed the “Blitz Strategy,” which sought to use speed to counter the inevitable anti-union employer campaigns. Others argued for organizing “hot shops,” any shop large or small, in any sector where workers were challenging their employers.
Among those who were losing faith in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) system, some stressed sectoral and industry-wide approaches, arguing that unions could not significantly improve wages and benefits if they did not organize competing employers within the same sector. Others argued for a geographic focus like the Houston Organizing Project, and some decided to simply forgo the certification process and experimented with “Acting Like a Union”—the idea that workers did not need a contract or to be certified by the NLRB to start engaging in collective action to win victories at work. Still others experimented with “Bargaining to Organize,” a strategy in which unions used negotiations with already-organized shops to pressure those employers into agreeing not to fight union drives in their non-union shops. CWA, UNITE HERE, and SEIU all won sign6ificant victories doing this.
A number of unions used Capital Strategies to leverage worker’s capital (public sector and Taft-Hartley pension plans) and other financial relationships, as part of conducting broader comprehensive campaigns to pressure recalcitrant employers to agree not to oppose unionization, accede to card check recognition of a union, and negotiate fair contracts. Other unions engaged in “Politics to Organize,” where they use political pressure and local legislation to support organizing. The lessons we derive from the fertile period from the mid-1980s to the mid 2000s relate largely to experiences we had with two of the most innovative initiatives: the SEIU’s JFJ campaign, for which Stephen served as the architect, and the AFL-CIO’s Union Cities initiative, which Marilyn oversaw and led as director of Field Mobilization at the National AFL-CIO.
Justice for Janitors
The JFJ campaign was born in 1985 out of the collapse of the SEIU’s janitors’ local unions around the country as janitorial work was being subcontracted and outsourced to low-wage non-union contractors. Those contractors often relied on undocumented mostly women workers who were routinely threatened with deportation if they tried to organize. At the start of the campaign, many observers said it would be impossible to organize these new janitors because they were part-time, undocumented, and worked for cleaning contractors who themselves could be replaced on 30 days’ notice. This created a dynamic in which building owners forced contractors to compete against each other by driving down janitors’ wages. JFJ found a way to attack that system, and by doing so achieved one of the most significant labor victories of the past half-century.
After the successful strikes, resounding organizing victories that unionized hundreds of thousands of janitors, and dramatic wage increases achieved in new contracts, some who once insisted that immigrant janitors were impossible to organize simply reversed their old arguments by suggesting that janitors were actually uniquely easy to organize and that its lessons did not apply to other unions and industries.
These are some lessons from JFJ that we believe are relevant for today:
• Choose the right target and exploit its vulnerability. A couple of early decisions that came from an analysis of how the real estate industry functioned were critical to the campaign’s success. We focused on who really had power to improve conditions for janitors—namely, the building owners and the capital that financed them, rather than the cleaning contractors who served them. Instead of running NLRB elections with cleaning contractors, we won commitments from the boards of union workers’ pension funds totaling $1 trillion that these funds would only invest in real estate that used “responsible contractors.”
• Campaign at the appropriate level. We adopted a sectoral approach to organizing and bargaining. We organized an entire geographic market at the same time so that we could take janitorial wages out of competition and force all the contractors to pay the same labor costs. We first organized citywide in Denver, Los Angeles (LA), and Washington, DC. Then we negotiated master contracts that set standards for the whole sector in those cities.
• Center on racial/immigrant justice. Immigrant rights and racial/gender justice were central to the success of JFJ. We did not organize workers only around their wages and working conditions. We organized them around how they were treated as immigrants (documented and undocumented) and people of color in the United States.
• Tap the transformative power of militancy. We used strikes, mass civil disobedience, and corporate campaigns, not NLRB elections. We used public campaign actions to pressure companies to agree to voluntary recognition. In Washington, DC, we shut the bridges to bring attention to how janitors were treated. We also won back the right for our members in other cities to honor the picket lines of any local union in the country. This allowed workers in Houston and other cities to strike and spread their pickets to other cities, which was crucial in winning their campaigns.
• Go deep with members. Deep member organizing was central to the JFJ strategy. In unionized markets, we needed to educate and train existing members who then honored picket lines and took other actions to pressure employers to accept unionization in non-union markets.
• Follow capital across borders. We campaigned, locally, nationally, and ultimately globally. Increasingly, capital, building owners, and cleaning contractors who operated in local markets and national markets operated globally, with many leading cleaning contractors being based in Europe. Not only did unions from throughout the world support and help win janitor fights, JFJ also supported organizing campaigns in Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, among other places. These global campaigns were instrumental in organizing janitors and winning union recognition, improving conditions in these countries, and leading to “global agreements” from International Service Systems (ISS) and other multinational service companies that required them to respect workers’ rights to organize and negotiate collective agreements.
• Use the whole tool box. Different settings required different approaches. Our overall strategy included Bargaining to Organize, where collective bargaining with partially unionized employers forces the employer to accept card check neutrality for non-union workers in some of the company’s non-union locations, and Politics to Organize, where political pressure, regulations, and legislation are used to support organizing. We sought to use heavily unionized cities with strong agreements to leverage their strength to secure bargaining rights in unorganized cities. Working with Union Cities, we used the labor’s political muscle to open doors where that was possible. And, over time, we developed increasing sophistication in using Capital Strategies.
• Acknowledge the dangers inherent in success. One of the most important lessons we learned is that success could breed complacency and caution. Our victories produced or revived some thriving local unions that, once firmly established, became less willing to take local risks to support a national growth strategy. This is a huge danger going forward that unions so used to losing will become satisfied with small victories versus transformative ones, undercutting the potential for explosive growth.
In retrospect, it became clear that by working on the margins of late twentieth-century capitalism and organizing some of its most vulnerable workers, we were discovering tools and learning lessons that would become essential to broader labor movement rebirth. More and more industries were being reorganized in ways that resembled what happened to the building service industry in the 1970s. These shifts conform to what economist David Weil has called the rise of the “fissured workplace,” where corporations use outsourcing, subcontracting, and converting work to part-time jobs to de-unionize, drive down standards, and shed legal liability for their mistreatment of workers. It turned out that janitors were the canaries in the coal mines of the twenty-first century’s fissuring workplaces.
Launched in 1996, the Union Cities strategy sought to align unions and community organizations around a grand vision of winning greater economic and racial justice by building power for working people where they live and work. As such, the successes and failures of this initiative offer valuable lessons for contemporary social justice organizers.
We developed the Union Cities strategy by drawing on the best, most creative, and innovative organizing strategists from different communities and incorporating core elements into the national Union Cities strategy. We involved Central Labor Council leaders from San Jose, Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Cleveland, Seattle, LA, and others who had been willing to take personal internal political risks and challenge local unions to adopt a new approach. Together, we set a very clear series of goals and strategies as a challenge to every labor council in America to change the organizing culture of our local movements that when combined across communities could support needed national change.
Let us share one concrete example. During this time, LA was a city with a long history of fierce anti-union campaigns by employers. In the 1990s, LA began to lose much of its unionized manufacturing base. Union density was 17 percent, and many unions were hostile to the growing population of undocumented workers. To challenge these conditions, Miguel Contreras, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, worked with other local leaders to build a focused political, racial justice, and community strategy to transform Los Angeles into a real Union City. Instead of relying on insider relationships and personal lobbying, the Los Angeles County Federation and allies engaged thousands of canvassers, phone bankers, and worksite and community activists. They brought together African-American, Latino, and white constituents to challenge an incumbent Democrat to elect the first African-American woman to the municipal legislature in ten years.
Union Cities in Los Angeles supported a research policy center, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), to help organizers win goals that directly impacted workers’ ability to form unions and win community benefits agreements. They put into practice the “politics to organize” strategy and persuaded local politicians to get arrested, supporting JFJ and UNITE HERE campaigns. They also passed landmark legislation to win job security for airport workers and a living wage law tied to organizing. They began connecting bargaining campaigns across the region.
These are some lessons from Union Cities that we believe are relevant for today:
• Develop a powerful inspiring vision of the community we are fighting for. We need to engage the community, union members, and unorganized workers in creating a collective vision and plan that is worth fighting for.
• Map the local community, and political and corporate power structures. It is not sufficient to just map the local community and political power structures—we need to map the billionaires and corporations that act as a shadow government in our communities.
• Build transformational relationships and community alignment. We need to move beyond transactional one-offs. We need to center race, gender, and immigrant rights as a central part of building an inclusive powerful movement that embraces and helps grow aligned movements.
• Organize, educate, and activate union members. Workers live in communities and have lives beyond work. We need to do both deep political economy education and create opportunities for workers to bring their whole selves and their communities into community and worker fights. Active, involved, and engaged union members are central building block for local movements.
• Marry sectoral and geographic organizing and movement building. It is through overlaying sectoral organizing, campaigns to organize the majority of workers in a specific industry, with local geographic organizing that we can create the excitement, momentum, and scale needed to build the power to win both at work and in our communities.
• Organize campaigns that go on offense and do not allow “good” political relationships to hold union and community organizing hostage. Union cities attempted to build local infrastructure to support organizing campaigns. Union cities was hobbled both by a lack of local and national organizing campaigns to support and by an unwillingness to challenge politicians who claimed to be allies but sided with corporations on critical issues such as raising taxes on the rich and rent control.
Making/Mapping the Road to This Moment
In retrospect, we have come to see that JFJ and Union Cities were imagining and testing new models that reflected the complex realities of workers’ lives in twenty-first century capitalism. The New Deal order had given rise to the NLRA and later public sector collective bargaining, but capitalism had outflanked that framework. The single employer and workplace-based forms of organization, representation, and bargaining that prevailed when we entered labor’s ranks addressed the realities of an era that was quickly fading. Those forms had all been devised in a time before “fissuring,” private equity, “maximizing shareholder value,” and privatization had begun to prevail and reshape power relations. We were also learning that a narrow, often defensive approach to bargaining, mainly focused on wages and benefits, proved ineffective at addressing the new economy and its racialized and gendered dynamics of inequality.
Additional internal and external realities stood in the way of past breakthroughs and stand in the way of future ones if we do not address them.
We can identify multiple internal reasons why the seeming breakthrough moments we believed we were living through at the time did not produce the turnaround we hoped for. In 2003, Stephen wrote an “An Immodest Proposal: Remodeling the House of Labor” in New Labor Forum, in which he argued that in addition to external factors, there were core internal labor challenges that stopped unions from organizing at scale. Many if not all the issues raised in that article remain, from lack of resources focused on organizing, to unions being risk-averse and more focused on institutional survival than on challenging powerful corporations. Similarly, in 2004 twelve key Central Labor Council leaders from cities around the country wrote an open letter “Uniting Locally, Growing Nationally: A strategy to win for Workers”—which laid out specifics of how to support and revitalize local labor movements.
As we look back, we realize that we entered the labor movement just at the moment of neoliberalism’s ascendance. Just as we were building strategies such as JFJ and Union Cities, neoliberalism —corporate deregulation and the whittling away of the state’s role in protecting and providing for its citizens—became the dominant ideology in both political parties and even captured the imaginations of union leaders and workers. Even when we were not directly addressing the challenge of neoliberalism, we had to do constant battle with the idea that “there is no alternative,” as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously put it. It is no wonder that the past “moments” did not pan out, for they emerged when the material and ideological playing field tilted sharply against our efforts. The alignment of external realities, on one hand, and the lack of a clear analysis and strategy and a corps of activists and leaders with the capacity to pursue them, on the other hand, crippled the prospects for labor’s revitalization during the past nearly half-century.
But we no longer live entirely in that world. For more than a decade, as the historian Gary Gerstle points out in his recent book The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era, neoliberalism has been plunging deeper into crisis and the bipartisan political consensus that once sustained it has been unraveling. This is illustrated by the buy up of millions of homes by the private equity industry, raising rents and making housing increasingly unaffordable—financed by underfunded public employee pension funds desperate to increase returns. The climate crisis which defies any neoliberal solution threatens to further hasten neoliberalism’s decomposition. Instead of resisting efforts to address climate change out of a fear of job losses, unions need to demand a green economy and win good union jobs through organizing, bargaining, and movement building.
We see this “moment” as different from those that preceded it because the external realities are moving in a more favorable direction for our movement. In recent years, we have elaborated and tested analyses and tools that we can draw upon to meet the challenges—and opportunities—that now confront us. Importantly, we have seen how activism born in the struggles against institutional racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and homophobia is deepening the intensity and vitality of labor struggles. As a result of the 2008 financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street uprising, a new generation was radicalized and learned how fundamentally the system is broken. The pandemic and the performative hailing of essential workers— predominantly workers of color, forced to work without proper protective equipment—triggered protests, organizing, and swelling public support for workers and unions.
We started this article by arguing that this is a moment of peril and opportunity and that this may be labor’s last best chance to build on labor’s existing base. And that leads to the question of what our goals should be. Is it to grow by a certain number of members? Is it to regain the density we had in the 1970s, when 20 percent of workers were in unions, or even the 1950s, when 35 percent of private sector workers were in unions? Of course, we need to organize millions of workers, but we believe if our goal is just to gain new members and we do not ground our work in a broader movement for transformational change at every level of society, we will be successful neither in organizing significant numbers of new members nor in addressing critical issues of defending democracy, racial and economic inequality, and climate change that are central to workers and the future of our world. While some may argue expanding what we are fighting for will make it harder to win, we believe that the opposite is true.
Meeting This Moment and Forging the Path Ahead
We know that no single idea, strategy, or tactic is sufficient to organize millions of workers, challenge corporate power, inequality, and the forces attacking democracy. To do that, we will need to bring together many strategies and tactics both old and new. Among the most promising strategies developed during the past decade (which both of us work on) are Organizing and Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG). The scope of ambition of these strategies and their ongoing successes holds great potential to combat the challenges we face.
Formed in 2014, BCG is a network of unions and community organizations aligned around a common effort to transform collective bargaining into a tool broad and flexible enough to confront the rapacious character of twenty-first century capitalism. It was born in part in the struggle of public sector unions against post–Great Recession austerity and the effort to roll back public sector collective bargaining. It emerged from the realization of public sector unionists that they could not defend themselves against retrenchment unless they built deep alliances with the community organizations that were also organizing around the same issues and by the realization of both groups that collective bargaining as it had been traditionally practiced tended to pit their interests against each other.
“BCG’s Big Bang,” as movement activists Alex Han and Emma Tai recently termed it, happened with the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike. The strike challenged a school system that was “broke on purpose” and united Chicago communities and labor around an effort to challenge not just the deteriorating working conditions of teachers, but also the entire structure of the broken education system. What happened in Chicago was also happening with educators in St. Paul, Minnesota municipal workers in Los Angeles and others. In these cities, teachers’ unions demanded to bargain over issues well beyond wages and working conditions, including public education financing, as well as a growing list of issues that impact the viability of schools such as housing evictions, the school-to-prison pipeline, and immigrant rights. Meanwhile, the BCG approach, which emerged in the public sector, found resonance among private sector unions, whose members also found themselves bargaining at the wrong level with the wrong targets and without the deep ongoing transformational engagement with community organizations.
Out of these overlapping centers of activity, we have seen the outlines of a new worker movement taking shape within the shell of the old, one that is adapting past forms to new realities.
We believe the window of opportunity for which we have long awaited is here. We say this with some trepidation because we have lived through other moments of optimism, but this feels different. Current material conditions—the collapse of neoliberalism, the crisis of climate change, racial injustice, and extraordinary economic inequality—make the need for change obvious to many. At the same time, focused struggle over the last forty years to revitalize the labor movement has taught us important lessons and sharpened the tools we need to win. It is up to us to seize this moment, to imagine and win the world we want to create!
1. Ramon Cruz and Cindy Estrada, “BCG’s New Frontier: Auto Workers and the Environmental Movement,” Nonprofit Quarterly, October 5, 2022, available at https://nonprofitquarterly.
2. Available at https://news.gallup.com/poll/398303/approval-labor-unions-highest-point….
3. Stacey Davis Gates, Sheri Davis, Marilyn Sneiderman, and Alisha Volante, “Critical Race Feminism and Common Good Unionism,” Nonprofit Quarterly, September 28, 2022, available
4. Department of Organization and Field Services, AFL-CIO, Numbers That Count: A Manual of Internal Organizing, Contributor: AFL-CIO (Washington, DC: Department of Organization and Field Services, AFL-CIO, 1988).
5. Marilyn Sneiderman and Enid Eckstein, “Looking Back, and Looking Ahead,” LAWCHA Newsletter (Fall 2009): 10-11; David Moberg, “Union Cities,” The American Prospect, December 19, 2001, available at https://prospect.org/features/union-cities/.
6. Jeff Grabelsky, “Lighting the Spark: COMET Program Mobilizes the Ranks for Construction Organizing,” available at https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/75815/Grabelsky7_Lig….
7. William K. Stevens, “Labor, Aware Task Is Tough, Sets Out to Unionize Houston,” The New York Times, April 10, 1982, available at https://www.nytimes.com/1982/04/10/us/labor-aware-task-is-tough-sets-ou….
html; Brishen Rogers, “‘Acting like a Union’: Protecting Workers’ Free Choice by Promoting Workers’ Collective Action,” Harvard Law Review 12, no. 38 (2010), available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=1926769; Dorothea Benz, “Organizing to Survive, Bargaining to Organize,” Journal of Labor and Society 6, no. 1 (June 2002): 95-107.
8. Available at https://uniglobalunion.org/wp-content/uploads/ISS-Global-Agreement-Engl….
9. See essays in Purple Power: The History and Global Impact of SEIU, ed. Luis Aguiar and Joseph A. McCartin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2023); Ad Knotter, “Justice for Janitors Goes Dutch. Precarious Labour and Trade Union Response in the Cleaning Industry (1988-2012): A Transnational History,” International Review of Social History 62, no. 1 (2017): 1-35, doi:10.1017/S0020859016000651.
10. David Weil, The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).
11. Stephen Lerner, “An Immodest Proposal: Remodeling the House of Labor,” New Labor Forum 12 no. 3 (2003), available at https://newlaborforum. cuny.edu/2017/11/21/an-immodest-proposal-remodeling-the-house-of-labor/.
12. CLC Proposal_ November 2004, available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dvw2Hqlcd9U_owshw0W12k-C92j_UOC1/view.
13. Gary Gerstle, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022).
14. “Introducing Bargaining for the Common Good,” Nonprofit Quarterly, September 7, 2022, available at https://nonprofitquarterly.org/introducing-bargaining-for-the-common-go….
15. Alex Han and Emma Tai, “BCG’s Big Bang: Ten Years after the Chicago Teachers’ Strike,” Nonprofit Quarterly, September 14, 2022, available at https://nonprofitquarterly.org/bcgs-big-bang-10-years-after-the-2012-ch….
Marilyn Sneiderman directs the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization and is a distinguished professor at Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations. She led the AFL-CIO’s Department of Field Mobilization, where she launched the national “Union Cities” initiative, which focused on increasing the capacity to support and win organizing, political, and policy campaigns nationally through community/labor alliances.
Stephen Lerner served on the SEIU’s International executive board and is the architect of the Justice for Janitors campaign. Lerner is currently a senior fellow at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.