The care for union workers is in her blood. Most Angelenos know the work of newly-elected Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Secretary-Treasurer April Verrett.
Verrett is a Southside Chicago native, who has a long history of working on behalf of union workers. Her grandmother, a union steward for SEIU Local 46, taught Verrett the values of collective action and community, which have served her well as president of SEIU Local 2015, California’s most prominent local union representing long-term care providers.
The Sentinel has watched Verrett’s rise and had the opportunity to speak with her after her recent appointment.
L.A. Sentinel: How impactful is it that you have a seat at the international table of SEIU?
April Verrett: It’s truly an honor to join the team of Mary Kay Henry and other international officers. It’s a time when the world is wrestling with this post-pandemic question of who we are and who we want to be. We see workers across the country standing up and making choices. Since the pandemic, people talk about the great resignation, but we call it the great reckoning. Workers are fed up; they are sick and tired of settling for less when they know they deserve so much more. I believe we are in a moment where we can transform the labor movement and transform the lives of millions of workers.
LAS: Were you surprised that one of the outcomes of the pandemic for many workers was the realization that they could have better jobs and opportunities to earn higher wages?
AV: I wouldn’t say I was surprised. During the pandemic, I saw fear and despair turned into anger, resolve, and inspiration. We came out of this pandemic determined that we would not squander the lessons learned. And we would use this moment to say enough is enough and fight for transformational change. For generations, workers have been disrespected, devalued, and demeaned. And they are just fed up and not taking it anymore.
LAS: You are considered a part of the next generation of SEIU leadership. Can you share your vision and hopes as you move forward?
AV: I hope to be a leader who brings the labor movement to a place where we can discuss poverty and income equality and build generational wealth, not just wages. We must answer how we are meeting the moment in this century for 21st-century workers that do 21st-century jobs in a 21st-century economy. The labor movement is still very much the movement built in the middle of the 20th century, and we must evolve and innovate and meet workers where they are. That’s the movement I want to be a part of leading.
LAS: What is your message for younger union members that convey the viability and necessity of unions like yours?
AV: We must remember that we didn’t get to where we are regarding how workers and the public view unions by accident. It has been a 40-year systemic plan and attack on the labor movement, on unions from the right. I anchor what we do in power, personal power, and collective power. I would like workers to see unions as organizations that are theirs to create and build assets that will help them to thrive. Workers must see organizations as their own, which I hope would attract younger members.
LAS: I know you believe in speaking truth to power. Los Angeles is getting ready to elect a new mayor. Have you spoken with any candidates about their views on working with unions related to the labor market?
AV: Absolutely! We held a meeting with five candidates, and our members decided to endorse Congresswoman Karen Bass. We are proud of that endorsement, proud to be a part of her campaign, and super proud to be a part of her victory in the recent primary. Karen and I have talked a lot over the years about the union, and I know she has a passion for workers. Congresswoman Bass has always supported workers in building their organizations and supporting them in their struggles. She is an ally, and I am proud to be her partner in this election and a progressive movement where community and labor will work together to improve Los Angeles and our country. I can’t think of a better person to be the next mayor of our great city.
LAS: What do you believe has to happen to change the mindset of those who are not union supporters?
AV: SEIU believes it is time for corporations to be held responsible for their attacks on unions and workers. It is also time for elected officials and other allies to call them out for their behavior. The fact that workers must walk through fire to form a union is appalling, and we should no longer tolerate this bad corporate behavior.
LAS: You have said that you don’t want to focus on wages only. What is your view on unions supporting good mental and physical health for their members?
AV: For a long time, I have believed that unions need to speak to the whole lives of their workers, not just their work lives, but their lives as humans. There has been so much trauma and suffering in the past two years, so we must do a better job of supporting workers so they can thrive. I would like to ensure that workers have the opportunity and access to vital physical and mental health care.
LAS: Is SEIU partnering with other organizations fighting to forge a path for citizenship for undocumented workers?
AV: SEIU is proud of our long history of being immersed in the immigrant justice movement. We will not stop until we make sure that this is a country that fully recognizes the humanity of all of us who live and call America home.