June 5, 2009 Volume 110 Number 11

SEIU’s Dale takes job in Geneva; Local 49 names Niemi president

Alice Dale, a longtime Oregon leader at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), moved May 30 to Geneva, Switzerland. Two days later, she began her new job as director of the Property Services Sector at UNI Global Union.

UNI (Union Network International) is an international labor federation formed in 2000 by the merger of four industry-specific global union federations. UNI affiliates represent about 20 million workers worldwide. Several large U.S. unions belong to UNI — SEIU, Communications Workers of America, and United Food and Commercial Workers.

In her new job, Dale will negotiate with multinational corporations like Danish ISS, Swedish Securitas, and British G4S to get “framework agreements” setting ground rules for union organizing campaigns. And she will oversee campaigns to unionize security and janitorial workers in India, Poland, South Africa, Malawi, and elsewhere.

Dale, 56, has a law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She began her career in organized labor in 1978 as staff attorney for Oregon Public Employees Union, which was then an independent union of state employees. OPEU affiliated with SEIU in 1980, chartering as SEIU Local 503.

Dale became Local 503’s executive director in 1985, and led the union through a nine-day rolling strike in 1987 which won a major victory for gender pay equity.

“[The strike] was the culmination of a couple of years of work trying to build militancy within a rank-and-file organization,” Dale said. “It was transformative for the membership.”

The State of Oregon agreed to a classification study that resulted in pay raises of 10 to 30 percent for underpaid traditionally female-dominated occupations.

In the years Dale led the union, Local 503 grew from 12,000 to 26,000 members. By 2001, she was ready for a change.

She agreed to serve as trustee of Portland-headquartered SEIU Local 49, which represents janitors and hospital workers. Members elected her president in 2002. Local 49 grew from about 5,000 members to about 7,500 under her leadership.

Last year, the janitors won a major improvement in their multi-employer union contract — company-paid health coverage for their children. However, a campaign to unionize several thousand workers at Providence Health System, begun in 2005, has been tough going, owing to strong employer opposition, Dale said.

Dale also has served on the national union’s Executive Board since 1985, first with SEIU President John Sweeney and later with his successor Andy Stern. SEIU devotes a sizable fraction of its budget to organizing new members, and has been one of the fastest growing unions in the country. Now Dale will seek to replicate that in organizing workers worldwide.

Husband Frank Evans and their 13-year-old son Nicolas will join Dale in the move to Geneva. Dale speaks Spanish. Her new job will require her to learn French.

On Dale’s recommendation, Local 49 organizing director Meg Niemi was appointed by the union Executive Board to fill out the remainder of her term.

Niemi, 38, grew up in Central Oregon and later Portland, where she graduated from Jefferson High School. Niemi said union membership was important to her grandparents and her stepfather; when she graduated from Pitzer College in California with a degree in political science she decided to attend the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Institute. She went on to become an organizer for SEIU Local 1199P in Pennsylvania, SEIU Local 250 in California, and Oregon School Employees Association in Central Oregon.

She returned to SEIU as Northwest organizing coordinator, and then joined Local 49 in 2004 as organizing director just as the Providence campaign was getting under way. Niemi said recent decisions by Providence to cut pension benefits could bring new urgency to the union campaign. So could passage of the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress.

Niemi could end up being Local 49’s last president because the union is in discussions over possible mergers with other SEIU locals. In one scenario, Local 49’s building services members would join Seattle-headquartered SEIU Local 6, while its health care members would join SEIU Local 503 or Local 1199 NW.

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