SEIU celebrates Juneteenth in Detroit, reenergizing its healthcare campaign
Celebrating Juneteenth on Belle Island, Detroit. | Daniel Hopkins / PW

DETROIT— “Make some noise SEIU! Make ‘em hear us from Canada to Lansing,” shouted home healthcare worker and Service Employees organizer Rodney Tate to hundreds of trade unionists outfitted in purple and gold. “When we fight, we win!” The crowd of workers enthusiastically shouted back “We will win!”

On the eve of Juneteenth, SEIU Healthcare Michigan hosted a rally on Detroit’s Belle Isle to re-energize their ongoing home healthcare worker campaign and to mark the holiday of Juneteenth. Multiple SEIU locals were in attendance, including SEIU Local 1 (Midwest), Local 775 (Washington), Local 2015 (California), and Fight For A Union. Community organizations such as Mothering Justice, Detroit Union Education League, and Michigan United were also represented.

The SEIU event was held in a large section of Detroit’s most famous public park. Purple and gold balloons, food trucks, union siblings, and family members were abundant. The goal of the event was to demonstrate solidarity with the workers in the campaign, sign up workers with union cards, and to phone bank for the passing of SEIU Healthcare MI’s #1 priority: SB 790 and 791.

“We are gathered here today, on the eve of Juneteenth, to fight for a cause, and that is ensuring that the Michigan Senate passes SB 790 and 791,” said Tate. These bills, if passed, would allow for public homecare workers to re-establish the right to collective bargaining as well as ensure that they can once again be considered employees through the Public Authority.

“I’ve been a home healthcare worker for 20 years and I’m only getting paid $500 a month…no benefits,” said Tate. “Michigan needs to change these laws” to allow us to unionize, he said. “But do we think that these politicians care?” he asked the crowd, to which they replied with a resounding “No!”

“Well, we’re going to make ‘em care! Good trouble is necessary trouble!”

Larnice Jackson, who came out to Detroit from California, is an organizer with SEIU Local 2015 which represents long-term caregivers there. She told People’s World that “we are here to build a powerful movement of workers, local to local, and stand up for what’s right. We are one union.

“We are here to unite Black, brown, and white together. When we do that, there’s nothing that can defeat us,” she said. “They raise prices whenever we get a little something. $15 an hour ain’t enough anymore. $20 isn’t enough. We are fighting for more because workers deserve more.”

Celebrating Juneteenth on Belle Island, Detroit. | Daniel Hopkins / PW

TunDe Hector, part of the Action Team of Atlanta SEIU, told People’s World that the union is here to “energize Detroit and show this city that the SEIU is here for you.” Speaking on the political conditions in the U.S. right now, Hector said that “home healthcare workers” and all workers suffering from poverty and low wages “need their voices heard. And trust me, our voices will be heard.”

Neal Bisno, Executive Vice President of SEIU, spoke on the necessity of combatting both economic and racial oppression. “It’s appropriate that we fight on Juneteenth,” he said. “This poison of racism did not end in 1865. It continued in Jim Crow, it continued in mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and now it’s continuing with the poverty wages paid to Black workers.”

“In order to abolish slavery, defeat Jim Crow, and win our unions,” Bisno told the crowd, “we had to build movements. We are doing that now” with the SEIU home healthcare worker campaign “in order to win justice for our workers.”

“We’re up against the two main pillars of oppression,” he said. “Corporate power and structural racism. We cannot separate the two and we cannot defeat one without the other.” The solution, Bisno told the crowd, “lies in building movements, organizing unions, and abolishing poverty wages once and for all.”

SEIU is seeking to organize 35,000 home healthcare workers into a bargaining unit in order to win recognition of their guaranteed rights as workers and get rid of poverty wages.

Additionally, the SEIU has big plans for the 2024 elections. “As goes Michigan, so goes our country and the planet,” Bisno said. “We need to back pro-worker candidates up and down the ballot who will stand up to corporate America.”

The keynote address, given by newly elected SEIU president April Verrett, also the first Black woman president of the Service Employees, was met with applause, song, and dance. “Our collective care fuels our righteous anger and determination to win for working people,” she said. “Our movement is about solidarity and about community—across race, place, and faith.”

“And gathering on the eve of Juneteenth is no mistake,” she said. “We recognize the struggle for freedom and the progress we made. But more importantly, we recognize where we are going—despite the circumstances they put us in” as Black, brown, and working-class Americans.

“Detroit is home to a radical Black union legacy…from the UAW unions to the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, to the home healthcare workers here today,” Verrett said. “We are all working people: we are janitors, airport workers, gig workers, healthcare workers, security guards, and we are all in this fight together.”

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Cameron Harrison
Cameron Harrison

Cameron Harrison is a Labor Education Coordinator for the People Before Profits Education Fund. Based in Detroit, he was a grocery worker and a proud member of UFCW Local 876, where he was a shop steward. He writes about the labor and people’s movements and is a die-hard Detroit Lions fan.