Skip to main content

John Sweeney Papers

Identifier: LR002354

Scope and Content

The John J. Sweeney Papers cover the New Voice campaign, a successful 1995 bid for the presidency of the AFL-CIO. Sweeney's campaign was managed by Anna Burger, then Vice President of SEIU. From June until October of 1995 Sweeney, Trumka, and Chavez-Thompson traveled to promote their platform, while engaging with central labor council delegates. Included in the collection are office files, correspondence and reports related to the campaigns planning and execution.

The bulk of the materials are delegate reports from state federations and central labor councils in each state and some U.S. territories including Puerto Rico. Similar reports on the various unions that make up the AFL-CIO also make a large percentage of the colletion. These reports were used to coordinate the campaigns efforts across the U.S.

Some photographs are included in General Office Files with promotional photos and headshots of Sweeney on campaign. VHS video tapes are also in this series with promotional reels and news footage of the campaign.


  • 1995


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


John J Sweeney was born in Bronx, New York City in 1934. He started his career in the labor movement in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and by 1961 he was a union representative for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Sweeney became president of SEIU in 1985 and would hold this position until 1995. The AFL-CIO leadership in 1995 was divided over direction of the federation of unions, particularly the leadership under President Lane Kirkland. A coalition of prominent union leaders met in February of 1995 to discuss removing Kirkland from office they would call themselves the "Committee for Change." Kirkland refused to step down and announced he would be running for re-election later that year in October. In response the Committee for Change announced that they would run their own candidate John J. Sweeney with Richard Trumka as Secretary Treasurer and Linda Chavez-Thompson as Executive Vice President, a new position supported by their platform now called the "New Voice." Kirkland announced that he would resign on August 1 and Secretary Treasurer Thomas Donahue would be elected as interim president in August but would still face an election in October against the New Voice campaign. The New Voice campaign, with a more progressive platform, offered to expand the executive council to more unions, promised to expand organizing operations, and sought to include women and minorities in their executive operations. The New Voices campaign was successful, and Sweeney won the election in October of 1995. This was the first election in AFL-CIO history to be contested within the organization and proved to direct the course of the organization towards more inclusivity.


9 Linear Feet (9 SB)


John J. Sweeny was a major figure in the American labor movement who served as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from 1980 to 1995 and president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 until his retirement in 2009. Sweeney's campaign for the AFL-CIO presidency was the first contested election in the organization's history which helped to bring progressive reforms to the organization. Materials in this collection include correspondence, interoffice memoranda, photographs, campaign management materials, and press releases.


Folders in each series are simply listed by their location within each box. They are not arranged, so any given subject may be dispersed throughout several boxes.


The John Sweeney Papers were donated to the Walter P. Reuther Library in 2012 and 2018 by John J Sweeney.

Related Materials

SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Brian Schamber on April 14, 2021.
Guide to the John Sweeney Papers
Processed by Brian Schamber.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA