Published: August 17, 2020


At the 2020 General Council, delegates set us on a bold new path to strengthen representation, grow our union, and meet the challenges that will define our lives for years to come. 

By Steve Demarest, August 17, 2020

On August 2, while COVID-19 cases surged through Oregon, several hundred SEIU 503 members joined a virtual meeting to do something old, in a very new way.

For the last four decades, SEIU 503 members have elected representatives to attend our General Council. This biannual meeting is where your voice is translated into policy decisions that chart the course of our union. Over the years, decisions made at GC have had a huge impact.

Our Member Resource Center, where stewards are supported so they can protect members on the job, started with a General Council resolution. Our Civil and Human Rights Committee, where Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBT members work to improve equity within our union, was nothing more than an idea before General Council delegates made it a permanent committee. So many significant, meaningful changes have been made through this process.

In many respects, this year was no different. Delegates passed 27 resolutions, updating our governing documents and setting policies to prepare our union for the years to come.

“I am proud that SEIU 503 members are ready to grow and strengthen our union, take on racial and climate justice, and help build a new economy that works for everyone,” said Melissa Unger, SEIU 503’s Executive Director. “This year, we showed that we aren’t going to shy away from the challenges that will define our lives in the years to come.”

Key resolutions at this year’s general council:

  • Unions for All and Growth in Long Term Care. This resolution renews our commitment to making sure all workers have access to a union. It focuses on the need to organize new workers in long-term care, in order to lift standards for our current long-term care union members. Only in union can we ensure that caregivers get the respect they deserve for the work they do.
  • Stronger Representation. Delegates passed a slate of resolutions brought to General Council by the Stewards Committee. Stewards are the backbone of our union, and strong representation starts with policies that emphasize the important work stewards do.
  • Climate Justice. Delegates passed resolutions to endorse the Oregon Green New Deal and make the Climate Justice Committee a permanent fixture in our union. Arguments in favor of these resolutions were rooted in an understanding that the green jobs of the next economy must be union jobs.
  • Racial Justice. Delegates passed a resolution designed to make our bargaining process more inclusive and create more equitable outcomes for BIPOC members of our union. To strengthen our union’s commitment to racial justice, delegates also voted to give leaders from our African American, Latinx, Asian/Pacific/Desi, Women of Color, and Indigenous Peoples Caucuses seats on the Civil and Human Rights Committee.
  • More Accessible Elections.  Delegates voted to make Union elections more accessible by expanding electronic voting. Electronic voting has proven to increase participation and will be more inclusive for members who are Blind or visually impaired.

General Council is usually a crowded, bustling conference where members come together for several days to set the course of our union over the next two years, update our governing documents and pass the union’s budget. Moving this event online proved difficult. The challenge was to replicate the democracy of the event in a virtual setting where a bad internet connection or missed mute button can be extremely disruptive.

In many ways this challenge was a metaphor for our union’s resilience. Delegates came together to make this work. It gives me hope that we can tackle the challenges that lie ahead, no matter what gets thrown at us.