The son of Irish immigrants, John J. Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO in October 1995 and has been re-elected three times since.
Born in the Bronx in New York, Sweeney launched his trade union career with the Ladies Garment Workers. As SEIU president from 1980–1995, Sweeney led the successful Justice for Janitors campaign and increased SEIU membership from 625,000 to 1.1 million.
Under Sweeney’s leadership, the AFL-CIO moved far more resources into the support of national union organizing efforts and dramatically expanded its program for issues education and political action. Sweeney also led the federation to support legalization for undocumented immigrants and expanded outreach to and leadership opportunities for women, people of color, immigrant workers and students. As AFL-CIO president, he established the union movement’s first accredited National Labor College and spearheaded the innovative Working America affiliate that now includes more than 1 million members.