Balanoff retires as head of SEIU Local 1

After years of labor and political activism, he says he’s “leaving behind a great local. We’re always ready to fight for working people.”

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Tom Balanoff, president of Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union, at a news conference in 2018.

Sun-Times

Tom Balanoff, one of the most visible and vocal union leaders in Chicago, announced his retirement Thursday as president of Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union.

Balanoff, 71, notified the local’s board of his retirement, effective immediately. The board chose Genie Kastrup, currently executive vice president, to fill the remainder of Balanoff’s three-year term, which expires in September 2023.

“I’ve been in the union movement for 50 years,” Balanoff said. “It’s time. I had a great career and I’m leaving behind a great local. We’re always ready to fight for working people.”

The local counts about 50,000 workers primarily in building services across 6 states. It has claimed several victories over the years, including a “Justice for Janitors” campaign that won workers improved wages and job security. In January, the local celebrated a City Council vote authorizing raises for contract workers at O’Hare and Midway airports.

Balanoff has been president of Local 1 since 2000 after it reorganized. He held other leadership positions in SEIU prior to that.

The local has been a force in Chicago politics, supporting members of the Progressive Caucus in the City Council. The Balanoff family has been active for years in politics on Chicago’s Southeast Side and in Northwest Indiana.

“I always wanted to work for social justice,” Balanoff said. “The labor movement is a great place to do it and it has made a lot of difference in people’s lives.”

Balanoff said he plans to remain active on political issues. “I will be wherever my local is,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) read a statement about Balanoff’s retirement on the Senate floor Thursday. “When it comes to the American labor movement, all roads lead to Chicago,” Durbin said. “And few leaders have embodied the philosophy and solidarity of that movement better than Tom Balanoff.”

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