Wade Rathke

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Wade Rathke is the founder of Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). From 1970 to 2008, he served as the chief organizer for ACORN, until allegations of corruption forced him out of that role.[1].

In 2008, Rathke was forced by ACORN's board to resign after it found that he'd engaged in a cover-up of a nearly $1 million embezzlement of Acorn funds by his brother Dale, then the group's chief financial officer.[2]

Founding of ACORN

Rathke began his career as an organizer for the National Welfare Rights Organization in Springfield, Massachusetts. After working with the NWRO, he left for Little Rock, Arkansas, to found a new organization designed to unite poor and working class families around a common agenda.

This community organizing initiative in Arkansas eventually grew into the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the largest organization of lower income and working families in the United States, with 175,000 dues-paying families spread across about eighty-two staffed offices in American cities. 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.

Departure from ACORN

The New York Times reported[1] that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN's founder Wade Rathke, was found to have embezzled $948,607.50 from the group and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000. ACORN executives, including Rathke, did not inform the whole board, nor law enforcement, but signed an enforceable restitution agreement with the Rathke family to repay the amount of the embezzlement. Wade Rathke stated to the Times that "the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a 'weapon' into the hands of [...] conservatives who object to [ACORN]'s often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers." A whistleblower revealed the embezzlement in 2001; the Rathke brothers both departed ACORN in 2008.[1][3]

Founding SEIU

Rathke is also founder and Chief Organizer of Local 100, Service Employees International Union, which is headquartered in New Orleans with operations in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. Founded in 1980 in New Orleans as an independent union of Hyatt employees, the union became part of SEIU in 1984. Local 100 organizes 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.

His work in the labor movement includes three terms as Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO. He is the president and co- founder of the SEIU Southern Conference, and a member of the International Executive Board of SEIU, and Chief Organizer of HOTROC (the Hotel and Restaurant Organizing Committee) a multi-union organizing project for hospitality workers in New Orleans sponsored by the AFL-CIO and its president, John Sweeney.

Other projects

Three years ago, Rathke also created the Organizers' Forum, which brings together senior organizers in labor and community organizations in dialogues about challenges faced by constituency-based organizations, such as tactical development, organizing new immigrants, using technology, utilizing capital strategies and corporate campaign techniques, or understanding the impacts and organizing challenges of globalization.

Since 2004, Rathke has directed the Centre for Community Leadership, based in Vancouver, British Columbia and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A project of the Columbia Foundation, the Community Leadership Centre works to build a more progressive democracy in Canada and the Americas by training organizers to build partnerships between community organizations and labor unions. The Centre will: 1) identify and train community leaders and organizers to initiate and implement campaign-based initiatives on critical community issues, and 2) assist in the formation of sustainable local community or campaign-based organizations capable of effecting social change at the local, provincial/state or federal level.

Rathke is a longtime member of the Tides Foundation Board of Directors, and Board Chair of the Tides Center, which provides core management services to new and existing nonprofit organizations promoting social change. He is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of Social Policy, a magazine that explores issues, campaigns, and challenges in labor and community organizing.

He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.


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