“There’s still not very many of us,” says Luisa Blue, who has the distinction of being the first ever Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) to serve as an international union officer. “But we must constantly strive for diversity as that’s the key for advancing a progressive agenda and real change for working families.”
Blue recalls that women and immigrants at one time were denied membership from the nation’s largest labor unions. That policy changed for women in the 1940s and for immigrants in the late 1990s.
As the country observes the 122th anniversary of Labor Day, which honors the diverse movement of working people and their social and economic achievements, Blue says she’s inspired by the possibility of yet another historic milestone: a woman as President of the United States.
“Never in my lifetime did I think a woman would ever be nominated,” she exults. “Now we embark on electing the first woman and sending her to the White House.”
To make that happen, Blue has been traveling across the country from her SEIU Washington, D.C. office to get out the vote for Hillary Clinton in November.
“We have to continue fighting for immigrant rights, for social and racial justice,” she points out. “These are issues that mean a lot to the poor and those who don’t have a voice.”
Blue, 64, was elected executive vice president by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) during its Quadrennial Convention in May. Since 2013, she has been chief executive officer of SEIU Local 521, which represents 40,000 public and nonprofit, private-sector workers in California’s central Bay Area region and in the Central Valley.
Her historic election to a top post in the nation’s largest health care, property services and public services union is viewed by friends and co-workers as “a great next step” in a long union career.
“Luisa has dedicated her life to helping workers have a voice at work and build a better future for their families,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry at a July event, hosted by the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), honoring Blue.
Gloria T. Caoile – a founder of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and a former top official in AFCSME, the nation’s largest public sector union – describes Blue’s election as “a proud moment” for all Filipino Americans.
“Decades ago, Filipino American labor leaders championed farm and cannery workers,” Caoile points out. “Today, Filipino Americans are fighting for economic security, health care, and better working conditions for child care and senior care providers. Luisa continues to lead the fight in this struggle. She is a national treasure not only for Filipino Americans but for all Americans. Her grit, determination, fearlessness, cultural pride, commitment to racial equity, and passion for economic and social justice, are what we all should aspire to emulate.”
For her decades of work in labor to help lift up the lives of ordinary workers, Blue was named among the “100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World” by the Filipina Women’s Network in 2015. The award honors “Filipina women who are changing the face of power in their local communities and in their adopted countries they now call home.”