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Invisible No More: The Role of Training and Education in Increasing Union Activism of Chinese Home Care Workers in Local 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (UHE)

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[Excerpt] In 2002 only a small number of Chinese home care workers represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (UHE) were involved in their union. Language, unfamiliarity with unions in the United States, and, in some cases, undocumented immigration status inhibited participation in the life of the union by the growing number of Chinese home care workers. Despite these obstacles in 2007 perhaps the most active segment of the 60,000 home care workers in 1199SEIU now comes from the approximately 10,000 Chinese home care workers. Today, Chinese home care workers are consistently overrepresented at union (not just home care) rallies and demonstrations and have helped organize several home care agencies, bringing significant numbers of additional Chinese workers into the union. Currently the Chinese home care workers are organizing retirees and expanding their involvement in the political life of their communities. Chinese home care workers have extended their activism into political participation in their communities and in the union's political program. Eighty to ninety percent of Chinese home care workers, who earn between $7 and $10 per hour and who cannot count on regular work contribute between $5 and $10 per month on top of their union dues to the union's political action committee, maybe the highest percentage in the union. What makes this turnaround particularly significant is the role education and training played in the organizing. In 2003, 1199, assisted by Cornell University labor educators, launched a series of two-day training sessions for home care union activists facilitated in Cantonese and Mandarin. Chinese home care activists trained as facilitators by 1199 led the training. To date the two-day activist training has been given thirteen times for over 700 Chinese home care workers who give up precious days to complete the training. Each new training session is eagerly awaited, and each new class has a waiting list of participants ready before it starts. Of those who have completed the activist training over 100 have attended additional training to become union delegates (stewards). This article will describe how the Chinese Activist Training was conceived, designed and presented.

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unions; organizing; labor movement; home care workers; SEIU; Service Employees International Union


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Required Publisher Statement: Copyright by Sage Publications. Final article published as Margolies, K. (2008). Invisible no more: The role of training and education in increasing union activism of Chinese home care workers in Local 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (UHE). Labor Studies Journal 33(1), 81-92.

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