John J. Sweeney became president emeritus of the AFL-CIO at the federation’s constitutional convention in September 2009, stepping down after five terms as president. He was first elected president in 1995 on a platform of revitalizing the federation, which currently has 55 affiliated unions and 12.5 million members, including 3.2 Million members in Working America, its new community affiliate. The 1995 election was the first contested election in AFL-CIO history.
At the time of his election, Sweeney was serving as president of the Service Employees International Union, which grew from 625,000 to 1.1 million members during the 15 years of his leadership. He was a vice president of the AFL-CIO and chair of the AFL-CIO Executive Council committees on Health Care and Organizing and Field Services. He was elected SEIU president in 1980.
In May 2000, Sweeney also was elected president of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC), an international organization with consultative status at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). TUAC’s affiliates represent some 70 million workers and include more than 55 national trade union centers in the 29 countries in the OECD. TUAC coordinates worker and union input to the G8 economic summits.
Sweeney’s first job in the labor movement was with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, which later merged with the Clothing and Textile Workers Union. He joined SEIU Local 32B in New York City in 1961 as a union representative. Sweeney was elected president of Local 32B in 1976 and led two citywide strikes of apartment maintenance workers during the 1970s.
In 1996, he authored America Needs A Raise, Fighting for Economic Security and Social Justice, published by Houghton-Mifflin. He co-authored Solutions for the New Work Force in 1989 and co-edited the UNA-USA Economic Policy Council’s Family and Work: Bridging the Gap in 1987.
John J. Sweeney was born May 5, 1934, in the Bronx. He graduated from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., with a degree in economics. Sweeney held honorary degrees from Georgetown University, Oberlin College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Baltimore, Catholic University Law School and the University of Toledo’s College of Law. He died in 2021 and is survived by his wife, Maureen, his children, John and Patricia, and a granddaughter, Kennedy.