David Sullivan Papers

Accession Number: 
1 linear feet (2 MB)

David Sullivan was born in Cork City, Ireland on May 7, 1904. His father was a chemist, his mother a homemaker. He attended schools in Ireland and emigrated to the U.S. in 1925. He worked as an elevator operator in New York City, and was a founding member of SEIU Local 32B in New York City in 1934. He was a rank and file member of 32B until 1938 when he was elected Secretary-Treasurer, a post he held until 1941 when he became President of the Local. Sullivan served as President of 32B until 1960. He also was an International Vice President of SEIU from 1941-1960. In May, 1960 he was elected President of SEIU and served until 1971. Upon his retirement, he was named President Emeritus of the International. Sullivan was also active in a number of other labor affiliated organizations and civic groups. He died in New York City on January 23, 1976. He had married in 1930, and was the father of five children.

Historically, the Service Employees had one of the best records of minority representation of any labor union, and had been racially integrated since 1921. By establishing the Committee on Civil Rights in 1961, David Sullivan continued and expanded upon the Union’s commitment to civil rights. Also in 1961, Sullivan established the Union’s scholarship fund for members and their children. In 1963 the International moved its headquarters from Chicago to Washington, D.C., in part to have greater access to the political life of the nation. 1968 was the year the Union’s pension plan was established, and “Building” was dropped from the Union’s name, officially making it the Service Employees International Union. During his tenure as President of SEIU, David Sullivan saw a 70% membership increase in the Union. For more information on David Sullivan, please consult A Need for Valor: The roots of the Service Employees International Union, 1902-1992; Local 32B-32J: Sixty Years of Progress 1934-1994; and “Going Up!” The Story of 32B.

The Sullivan collection contains materials from Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign in 1968, clippings from the 1950 BSEIU strike in New York City, and several honoria given to David Sullivan in the course of his Union career. There is also a scrapbook of congratulatory letters and other related materials he received upon his election as SEIU President.

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