Eliseo Medina is described by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most successful labor organizers in the country” and was named one of the “Top 50 Most Powerful Latino Leaders” in Poder magazine. As the former International Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the current chair of the Immigration and Latino Civic Engagement Initiative, Medina leads the union’s efforts to achieve commonsense immigration reform that rebuilds the nation’s economy, secures equal labor- and civil-rights protections for workers to improve their wages and work conditions, and provides legal channels and a path to citizenship. Medina’s work to help grow Latino voting strength in the 2012 elections is widely recognized as a significant factor in propelling the 2013-14 debate in Congress over commonsense immigration reform.
Called a “quietly charismatic leader who is helping immigrant workers win union representation and make their voice heard in the political arena” by the Sacramento Bee, the issue of immigration reform is very personal to Medina. When he was 10 years old, he came to the United States from Mexico with his mother and siblings to join their father, who was an immigrant farmworker. Working to ensure the opportunity to pass immigration reform does not slip away, Medina led the effort to unite the unions of the Change to Win federation and AFL-CIO around a comprehensive framework for reform.
Serving as a leading voice in Washington, D.C., frequently testifying before Congress, Medina has also helped to build a strong, diverse coalition of community and national partners that have intensified the call for reform and cultivated necessary political capital to hold elected leaders accountable. Medina worked to strengthen ties between the Roman Catholic Church and the labor movement to work on common concerns such as immigrant worker rights and access to healthcare. Medina’s career as a labor activist began in 1965 when, as a 19-year-old grape-picker, he participated in the historic United Farm Workers’ strike in Delano, Calif.
Over the next 13 years, Medina worked alongside labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez and honed his skills as a union organizer and political strategist; eventually rising through the ranks to serve as the United Farm Workers’ national vice president. His interests in strategic organizing brought him to SEIU in 1986, where he helped revive a local union in San Diego—building its membership from 1,700 to more than 10,000 in five years. He was a leading strategist in the Los Angeles strike by SEIU Local 1877’s building service workers, who in April 2000 won the largest wage increase in the 15-year history of SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign. He also helped more than 100,000 home care workers in California advocate for the best quality care for the people they serve remain independent in their homes by securing funding to improve their quality of life.
In 1996, Medina was elected to serve as international executive vice president of SEIU. He made history by becoming the first Mexican American elected to a top post at the 2.1 million-member SEIU.
His work helped grow SEIU on the West Coast and make it the largest union in California. Since 1996, more than 1.2 million workers across the country have united with SEIU, the nation’s largest union of healthcare workers and the union with the largest membership of immigrant workers.
Medina has also headed SEIU’s efforts to help workers in 17 states across the southern and southwestern United States—including Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia—unite in SEIU so they will have the strength to improve their jobs and the services they provide in their communities.
In 2010, Medina was unanimously elected International Secretary-Treasurer of the 2.1 million-member union.
In 2012, Medina led SEIU to help deliver the Latino vote. He was at the forefront of voter engagement in the Latino community. Along with Mi Familia Vota, an organization Medina founded in 1998, and other advocacy organizations, he galvanized the Latino vote through a multistate bus tour called Todos a Votar, where he registered Latino voters on the ground and mobilized them to the polls. The successful tour managed to spotlight the unprecedented number of registered Latino voters and the promise that he made: a turnout of 12 million Hispanic voters nationwide in November (http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/aug/04/organizations-united-bring-minorities-polls/#ixzz2Mtcb5sLa).
The goal was reached. Medina had also promised the Latino vote would send a clear mandate to the president and Congress: the time is now for commonsense immigration reform with a clear pathway to citizenship. As Medina predicted, the message was received. In the beginning of 2013, both President Obama and Congress made immigration reform the top priority. Medina was invited to be present at the president’s speech in Las Vegas, where he announced his principles for a comprehensive immigration solution.
His words and efforts, both on the ground and behind the scenes, placed him at the forefront of the fight for immigration reform. He has met with President Obama and several leaders in Congress, and is on the leadership team of immigrant and civil rights, labor, business and faith organizations that are pushing for fair legislation on immigration.
Medina’s work to mobilize the Latino vote and working families everywhere to win immigration reform has launched him into the national limelight, having been quoted and televised in over a hundred interviews in the last two years.
In 2013, he continued the fight for immigration reform. With partnering advocacy groups, he helped in the formation of the Alliance for Citizenship, which brought hundreds of groups together to strength the fight for immigration reform. In the fall of 2013, he stepped down from his post as international secretary-treasurer to focus his energy on immigration reform.
Medina lived up to his promise and on Nov. 11, 2013, he increased the momentum for immigration reform when he spearheaded the “Fast for Families” campaign. In a tent on the National Mall, he fasted for 22 days. His efforts propelled Congress to reignite the debate on immigration reform as President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle commended his sacrifice. At the end of his fast, Huffington Post called him the “Man Who Kept Immigration Reform Alive,” while The New York Times’ Julia Preston and the editorial board as well as The Washington Post heralded his efforts in support of reform.
Medina lives in California, continuing to push for immigration reform and gearing up for Latino voter mobilization. He is married and the proud father of four children and one grandchild.