SEIU Mourns Loss of Former Secretary-Treasurer Betty Bednarczyk

SEIU recently lost former SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Betty Bednarczyk, who passed away Feb. 13. Betty began her career with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, over 50 years ago when we were SEIU Local 113. Betty had a profound impact on everyone she worked with, and inspired many to seek leadership opportunities, including International President Mary Kay Henry and former SEIU Healthcare MN President Julie K. Schnell. Betty will be greatly missed for her dedication to the labor movement and improving the lives of all working men and women. We want to pay tribute to her memory and contributions to SEIU and the labor movement.

Please share your memories of Betty on this page, or email them to ashley.christenson@seiuhealthcaremn.org for posting.

The following is a statement from former SEIU Healthcare Minnesota President Julie K. Schnell:

“When I started at the local over thirty years ago, Betty was still a business agent.  I was working in the office as support staff when she became the Secretary Treasurer of SEIU Local 113, which at that time was the top position in the local. She is the one who gave me the chance to become a business agent, and moved my labor career forward.

“Betty was a champion for women, when there weren’t many women leaders in the labor movement, but she never carried that banner in an obvious way. At a time when there were very few women leaders to look up to and admire, Betty was there. She was, if not the first, one of the first women leaders, not only within our union, but also within the state and SEIU. She is the type of person who carried it without it being obvious, in the way that she did the work and her commitment to the members.

“Betty made things happen; in our state, she was a significant leader in every front. I know because I was there to witness her leadership, and people told me when she ascended to her leadership position at the International. She was well respected and well loved within our union and within the labor community in Minnesota.

“She was instrumental in changing our Union; she is in so many ways the foundation of what we are today. At her core it was about winning for members, it was about what we could do together and how we could improve members’ lives. She wasn’t afraid to take on other labor leaders when she believed it was best for members, and she was instrumental in creating labor-management meetings and relationships, despite considerable opposition.

“Betty was amazing, she had a presence and charisma like nobody I’ve ever seen or met, and she blew you away. When Betty walked into a room people paid attention, and she used that attention to fight for members. Betty was incredible.”

Following is a statement by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry:

“Betty started working for SEIU in 1960 for SEIU Local 113, ‘Minnesota’s Healthcare Union.’ I first met Betty when I began working at Local 113 in 1980. She immediately took me under her wing, showing me the ropes at every nursing home, bargaining table, hospital labor management meeting, and every other role imaginable in a Local Union.

“I witnessed Betty’s commitment to excellence in leadership begin to evolve when she was an office worker who decided to run for a Local 113 leadership position because she believed the members deserved the very best from their union. Betty Bednarczyk strengthened my belief that we can make anything happen when we work together, focus our resources, and unleash our members willingness to take risks and lead.”

“She was elected to the SEIU International Executive Board in 1983. The following year, Betty helped create and lead a labor-management partnership involving her local union, other unions and the Allina Health System in Minnesota. Her vision helped to create a labor management partnership that was groundbreaking in many ways. For instance, non-union employees were included along with union employees in the partnership.

“Betty was elected to serve as an SEIU International Vice President in 1992. She was appointed to lead the SEIU Committee on the Future in the same year. Under Betty’s leadership, this committee engaged in a four-year strategic planning process that included comprehensive research and analysis. The recommendations of this committee became the foundation for the “Bold Action Plan” that guided the work of the union from 1996-2000. The strategic planning process Betty helped develop became a model for SEIU.

According to a long-held rumor, when SEIU engaged in a comprehensive overhaul of its organizational identity in 1997, Betty reportedly launched a campaign “to make the union’s new color “purple” so SEIU would have the same standard color as her beloved Minnesota Vikings. The rumor isn’t true. Purple was recommended for strategic reasons to distinguish SEIU from other unions. However, Betty’s love of her Vikings made her an instant fan and champion for the recommendation!

“She held many other leadership roles along the way, including: Vice President of the Minnesota AFL-CIO and President of the University of Minnesota Industrial Relations Advisory Council. President Bill Clinton appointed her to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection in the Health Care Industry in 1997.

“SEIU’s Executive Officers and I join with everyone in the SEIU family and workers everywhere in mourning the loss of our dear friend, mentor, and leader. We send our deepest sympathy to her family, friends, and loved ones.”

Read Mary Kay’s thoughts on Betty on SEIU.org here.

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