Born in Mexico in January 1946, Eliseo Medina participated in the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) celebrated grape strike which began in Delano, California in 1965. This first taste of union activism inspired Medina to pursue, under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky disciple Cesar Chavez and longtime socialist labor leader Dolores Huerta, a career as a union organizer and political strategist with UFW from 1965-78.
In 1986 Medina joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where, during a five-year period, he helped increase the membership of a local union in San Diego from 1,700 to more than 10,000. In 1996 he became SEIU’s international executive vice president, a post he held until 2010.
Over the years, Medina has cultivated numerous close ties with socialist and radical causes. For example:
Since the turn of the 21st century, Medina has developed a reputation as a staunch supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. In 2000, for instance, he was able to persuade the AFL-CIO—of which his SEIU was a member—to reverse its longstanding policy against illegal immigration and the hiring of illegals. Three years later he helped organize the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition. And in recent times he has advocated a path-to-citizenship for illegal aliens living in the United States, on the theory that it is vital “to get undocumented immigrants out of the underground economy, into the system and on an equal playing field with all workers.”
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Medina served on candidate Barack Obama’s National Latino Advisory Council, along with such notables as Democratic Representatives Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Hilda Solis, and Nydia Velazquez. After Obama’s election victory in November 2008, Medina became an advisor to the new administration.
In April 2009 Medina testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, arguing to “allow millions of undocumented workers to come out of the shadows, relieving them of the fear of arrest and deportation and of leaving behind their families and dreams.” At a June 2, 2009 “America’s Future Now!” conference hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future, Medina revealed the underlying political motivations for his passionate immigration activism:
“[If] we reform the immigration laws, it puts 12 million people on the path to citizenship and eventually voters. [In 2008] … Barack Obama got two out of every three [Latino] voters that showed up…. Can you imagine 8 million new [Latino] voters who care about our issues and will be voting? We will be creating a governing coalition for the long term, not just for an election cycle.”
In 2010 Medina condemned SB-1070, a newly passed Arizona law deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of criminal suspects whose behavior or circumstances seemed to indicate that they might be in the United States illegally.
That same year, Medina was unanimously elected to serve as SEIU’s international secretary-treasurer.
In 2010 and 2011, Medina spoke at Netroots Nation‘s annual national conferences.