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The Balanoff SEIU era is coming to a close as state council gets its first Black president

Monday, Dec 6, 2021

* Tom Balanoff has been president of SEIU’s Illinois State Council since 1995. He’s one of the most powerful union leaders in the state, but his union membership is overwhelmingly non-white…

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Illinois State Council swore in a new president this morning. Greg Kelley, current president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas is succeeding Tom Balanoff, becoming the first Black president in the Council’s history. The SEIU Illinois State Council represents 150,000 Illinois workers in health care, property services and public sectors through SEIU Local 1, SEIU Local 73 and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas (SEIU HCIIMK) — the majority of whom are frontline, essential workers.

The historic announcement of Kelley’s leadership comes at an important moment for labor advocacy in Illinois, as workers across the state win higher wages, better conditions and stronger protections.

“It is a great honor to step up, especially at a moment when workers are fighting harder than ever to win racial and economic justice,” Greg Kelley said of the announcement. “We’re at a crossroads: Are we going to keep the status quo, where corporations have all the power and the economy is rigged against working people? Or are we going to build a future where all Illinoisans, no matter where you’re from or what you look like, can thrive? That’s what we’re fighting for as a union of working people, and I couldn’t be prouder to help lead us forward.”

Kelley is president of SEIU HCIIMK, which represents 90,000 healthcare, child care, nursing home and home healthcare workers across the four states. His 20-plus years in the labor movement began when Kelley was a rank-and-file SEIU member at the Cook County Clerk’s office, organizing his colleagues to win better pay and conditions. His organizing work grew from there, and he was named president of the fastest-growing union in the Midwest in 2020.

“Tom Balanoff’s leadership has resulted in political and legislative victories benefiting working families throughout our state,” said Dian Palmer, president of SEIU Local 73. “Local 73 looks forward to working with Greg Kelley to further strengthen all our members through the 2022 elections and beyond.”

“I am privileged and honored to have served the members of SEIU and fought for all workers. SEIU has spoken with one voice, and it’s helped us organize thousands of workers, changing their lives with strong contracts. We have been a strong, independent political force in Chicago and throughout Illinois and never hesitated to fight for social and economic issues that benefit all workers,” said Tom Balanoff. “We have been in the forefront fighting for racial justice, immigration reform, health care for all as well as many other issues of social and human rights. I have a lot of confidence in Greg Kelley’s leadership and his collective leadership of all of SEIU in Illinois. Greg and his team will not only keep Illinois SEIU strong but will take it to the next level.”

Balanoff recently informed SEIU Local 1’s Executive Board that he will be retiring at their March 2022 Membership Meeting. Genie Kastrup, SEIU Local 1’s Executive Vice President, will move up to the position of Vice President of SEIU Illinois State Council.

“Genie Kastrup is a strong and smart addition. She will bring a lot of value to the SEIU Illinois leadership team,” said Balanoff.

“I definitely have big shoes to fill,” said Kelley, “Tom’s track record is unmatched, and his leadership is transformative and inspiring. I look forward to continuing his legacy of empowering the workers of Illinois.”

Props to SEIU’s members, many of whom have helped keep this state functioning during a very long crisis.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

5 Comments
  1. - Dankakee - Monday, Dec 6, 21 @ 4:28 pm:

    Greg is a capable and charismatic leader. SEIU is in great hands for years to come. Diversity at the top ranks of Labor is an American success story.


  2. - David - Monday, Dec 6, 21 @ 7:00 pm:

    Change can be good - congratulations to Mr. Greg Kelley on being named SEIU ISC President and its first Black President ever. I certainly hope that he does not forget to also include Latinos in key union leadership roles at proportionate levels given that community’s continued growth in the labor movement and demographically.


  3. - Frumpy White Guy - Monday, Dec 6, 21 @ 7:22 pm:

    Great News


  4. - Give Me A Break - Tuesday, Dec 7, 21 @ 8:13 am:

    If you ever worked at a state agency’s legislative shop like DHS, a call from Tom could strike fear in your heart. Another one of the “good guys” who knows how to keep the wheels turning even in the darkest days.


  5. - Moma J. - Tuesday, Dec 7, 21 @ 1:11 pm:

    Greg Kelley makes me proud of and confident in the leadership he will bring to SEIU Illinois State Council for workers and the communities they live and serve to have economic and racial justice.


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