"Thank you, Rev. Livingston. I am humbled and proud to be honored by Interfaith Worker Justice alongside my distinguished colleagues.
Let us recognize the leadership of those who brought us this far by faith. John Sweeney is one of those historic leaders who we are so grateful to have still in our midst.
John has dedicated his life to advancing the rights of workers. He began his union career in 1956 working for the International Ladies Garment Worker Union (now UNITEHERE) but then switched over in 1960 to SEIU, thanks to Tom Donahue. For the next 20 years, John proved himself a fighter, building locals, leading workers in strikes and building the powerful New York City 32BJ. In 1980, he was elected President of SEIU. He took the organization from 650,000 members to more than a million and initiated many of the innovative organizing approaches that we now all take for granted.
In October, 1995, John Sweeney was elected President of the AFL-CIO. His election, and the sense at the time that there was a new openness to community partnerships and rebuilding ties with labor, helped spark the formation of Interfaith Worker Justice just a few months later.
Kim has told me that when Monsignor Jack Egan asked President Sweeney to meet at a Catholic Social Ministries gathering in February, 1996 with him and Kim to talk about the formation of Interfaith Worker Justice, John offered his immediate support. John assigned Gerry Shea, one of his trusted allies, to help guide the novice Kim and figure out how the labor movement could be a strong partner with faith communities.
Building ties between labor and community organizations, faith groups, civil rights groups and workers centers was a hallmark of John Sweeney’s leadership. It made sense to him personally. Raised in a devout Catholic family and continuing active in his faith, he understood how important it was and is to have faith leaders and labor leaders working together for justice and the common good.
Interfaith Worker Justice thanks you John for all the support you have given to IWJ over the years. But we thank you for all you done for workers in this nation. Your life and legacy offers broad shoulders upon which we all stand.
We thank you.
We respect you.
We love you.
Please join me in giving the Lifetime Achievement Award to John Sweeney.