“Restoring the American Dream is job number one,” said SEIU Healthcare 775NW President David Rolf. “I believe to the core of my being that if people like the people in this room put our minds and our hearts into a set of ideas, it’s quite possible that we’ll change the world.”
Rolf delivered a rousing address Friday morning to open the union’s 10th Anniversary Convention and Leadership Conference at the Double Tree Hotel in SeaTac, Wash. About 500 union members travelled from throughout Washington and Montana to pave the way for the union’s next decade.
Rolf’s speech took stock of the past years that included organizing caregivers for the first time in Washington.
“We were founded because workers in other states and other industries had the courage to imagine a better future not just for themselves, but for all working people,” Rolf said.
Since the union’s original charter in 2002, home care workers in Washington have won better wages, better working conditions, healthcare benefits and L&I coverage, among other rights.
“But the work isn’t done,” Rolf said.
Nearly one in five caregivers still lives in poverty. Many home care workers can’t afford health coverage. And with a burgeoning senior population, caregiving must become a part of the health care system that inter-relates to the work of doctors and nurses.
To accomplish these goals, Rolf called on union members to elect leaders who will stand with working people. Caregivers endorsed Congressman Jay Inslee to become Washington’s next governor. And Rolf, who attended the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this week, gave a rousing shout out to Barack Obama.
“In 2014, 95 percent of Americans are going to have health insurance thanks to Barack Obama,” Rolf told a cheering crowd.
Finally, Rolf said its time to build a new labor movement.
Just like Franklin Roosevelt didn’t try to imitate Abraham Lincoln, we today shouldn’t be trying to imitate the unions of the 1930s, Rolf said.
Unions must embrace a changing, diversified work force. By looking to the future, unions will have enough power to dramatically improve workers lives economically, will impact the lives of tens of millions of American workers, and will be built to last, the union’s president said.
“Our new and better path calls on us all to do not what’s old, but what is new. Not what is familiar, but what is challenging. Not what is easy, but what is hard,” Rolf said.
“We must rise to change the direction of our state and our country. We must rise to lift caregivers out of poverty. We must rise to organize tens of millions of workers in new industries. We must rise to restore the American dream. And we must rise to create a new labor movement out of the ashes of the old.”