Wade Rathke

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Wade Rathke

Wade Rathke is the New Orleans based founder and former Chief Organizer of the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and SEIU Local 100, has close to 40 years of experience. He has worked for and founded a series of organizations dedicated to winning "social justice, workers rights, and a democracy where 'the people shall rule.'" Rathke resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.

London ACORN


Paris Caballa, Shea Stewart, Sarah (See Har), Wade Rathke, Fredi Gentz, Oscar Coles.

Students for a Democratic Society

In the late 60's, Rathke organized draft resistance for Students for a Democratic Society.[1]

National Welfare Rights Organization

Rathke welfare recipients in Springfield and Boston, Massachusetts for the National Welfare Rights Organization.[1]


Rathke serves as Chief Organizer of Local 100, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which he founded in New Orleans in 1980 and which now has 7000 members in Texas, LA, and Arkansas. Rathke is President of SEIU's Southern Conference and a member of the national executive board of the union.[1]


Rathke spearheads a multi-union effort through HOTROC - the Hospitality, Hotels, and Restaurants Organizing Council which is a project of the AFL-CIO with the purpose of unionizing the industry in New Orleans. He is also Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.[1]

Early Organizing

Rathke began his career as an organizer for the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) in Springfield, Massachusetts, under the direction of George Wiley. Rathke then started an organization in Arkansas that would "have a base in the general community, not just welfare recipients".[2]


Rathke was the Chief Organizer of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) since he founded the organization in 1970 until his ouster in 2008.[1] Rathke’s initiative Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now eventually grew into ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) the largest organization of lower income and working families in the United States.

ACORN claimed in 2009 that it had over 500,000 dues-paying families spread throughout more than one hundred cities. ACORN’s mission is to win “a bigger voice and fairer share for low and moderate income families”.

"Through the hard work of hundreds of community organizers and thousands of community leaders across the country, ACORN has won landmark victories in the areas of community reinvestment, fair lending, living wages, education reform, environmental justice, and other issues...Besides being ACORN’s Founder, Wade served as Chief Organizer for ACORN from 1970 to 2008: 38 years!"

The ACORN "family of organizations" includes radio stations KNON and KABF, publications, housing development and ownership-ACORN Housing, and a variety of other supports for direct organizing and issue campaigns, such as Project Vote and the Living Wage Resource Center.

Union organizing

Rathke also founded in 1980 and remains the Chief Organizer of Local 100, Service Employees International Union, working with members in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas.

In 1980, "union organizing in the U.S. was close to moribund", Rathke and other ACORN organizers started an independent union organizing effort called the United Labor Organizations, and, later, United Labor Unions. In New Orleans, Rathke organized an independent union of Hyatt employees. The New Orleans union later affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 1984, founding SEIU Local 100, AFL-CIO.

"Today, SEIU Local 100, which is headquartered in New Orleans with operations in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana.. Local 100 has organized public sector public workers, including school employees, Head Start, and health care workers, as well as lower wage private sector workers in the hospitality, janitorial, and other service industries."

Rathke served three terms as Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO. He was the president and co-founder of the SEIU Southern Conference, and served for eight years as member of the International Executive Board of SEIU.

New Party founders

The two key founders of the New Party were Joel Rogers and Dan Cantor.

The first strategic meetings to plan the New Party were held in Joel Rogers' home in Madison Wisconsin in the very early 1990s. Present were Rogers' wife Sarah Siskind, Dan Cantor, ACORN leaders , Wade Rathke ,Zach Polett , Steve Kest and Jon Kest , Steve Cobble from the Institute for Policy Studies (in an advisory role), Sandy Morales Pope (for the first 18 months), Harriet Barlow and Barbara Dudley.

The very first meeting included Gerry Hudson from Democratic Socialists of America and SEIU and Gary Delgado, plus labor activists Sam Pizzigati and Tony Mazzocchi. Anthony Thigpenn of Los Angeles was also approached, but though supportive did not wish to play a leadership role.[3]

Anti Wal-Mart activism

Over the last several years Rathke has directed the WARN project, a joint community-labor effort engaging Wal-Mart’s expansion in Florida, California, India and Mexico.

Through WARN and the Community Labor Organizing Center (CLOC), Rathke and his team "provide research, campaign, and organizing assistance through consultancies and contracts for a series of critical labor, community, and other campaigns for unions, immigrant rights, and community organizations both domestically and internationally from offices in New Orleans and St. Petersburg, Florida".

Tides Center

Rathke was a founding board member of the Tides Foundation and continues to serve as senior adviser to the organization and for a "number of their entities" including the Paradox Fund and Frontera Fund.

The Tides Center, which Rathke chairs provides "core management services to new and existing nonprofit organizations promoting social change".

In Peru with Drummond Pike

DSA connections

In 2002 Democratic Socialists of America organized a September 20-22 event in Washington DC entitled “Confronting America’s Low-WageEconomy.” The conference also kicked off DSA’s national campaign to focus attention on the problems of low-wage workers with a series of presentations and workshops setting forth the issues and possibilities for activism.

Saturday presentations featured such speakers as author Holly Sklar, Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer of ACORN, Wendell Primus of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Miles Rapoport of Demos and DSA vice chair Harold Meyerson.[4]

LA DSA conference

An "insurgent" Hilda Solis was a keynote speaker at the 2005 Democratic Socialists of America national conference "Twenty-First Century Socialism" in Los Angeles, with DSA leaders Peter Dreier and Harold Meyerson.

Saturday evening delegates recognized the contributions of DSA vice chair and Washington Post]columnist Harold Meyerson, Occidental College sociologist and longtime DSAer Peter Dreier and insurgent California Congress member Hilda Solis (D) who in turn provided in-depth perspectives of the political scene.

Other speakers included ACORN chief organizer Wade Rathke, Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Center and Roxana Tynan of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.[5]

Social Policy and other writing

Rathke is publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Social Policy, a "quarterly magazine for scholars and activists". He has written regularly for the New Labor Forum as well as recent essays in There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster, edited by Gregory Squires and Chester Hartman about organizing in the aftermath of Katrina, Wal-Mart: The Face of 21st Century Capitalism, edited by Nelson Lichtenstein "proposing a way to organize Wal-Mart workers in an association", and American Crises, Southern Solutions: From Where We Stand, Promise and Peril, edited by Antony Dunbar on the failure of labor to organize the South and what could have been done about it differently.

Rathke has a forthcoming essay on "Sweat and Social Change,” ACORN at 35 Years, edited by Robert Fisher for the Vanderbilt Press. Rathke also has two forthcoming books expected in Spring of 2009 with Verso Press on The Battle for the Lower 9th: ACORN and the Rebuilding of New Orleans, and with Berrett-Koehler on Citizen Wealth: How Community Groups are Working Themselves and the Working Poor out of Poverty.

The Organizers' Forum

Rathke was a founder of The Organizers' Forum.[1] As at Jan 28, 2010 Wade Rathke was the Board chair of The Organizers' Forum, a group with the mission of strengthening grassroots organizations by increasing capacity and stability of their democratic structures, to link organizing networks, and to improve on the skills and strategies employed by both community and labor organizers.[6].



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 The Organizers' Forum website: People
  2. Wade Rathke's blog, biography
  3. Spoiling for a fight: third-party politics in America By Micah L. Sifry, page 347
  4. http://www.dsausa.org/dl/Winter_2002.pdf
  5. [1] Democratic left, Winter 2006, page 2
  6. The Organizers' Forum website: Board of Directors