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Cathy Bradford Takes the Helm of Vassar’s SEIU Chapter

For more than a decade, Cathy Bradford has been speaking up for the more than 200 Vassar employees represented by the College’s chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). On January 1, Bradford became the first woman and first person of color to be elected president of the organization, and she says she’s looking forward to building on the good relationship the union and College administration have forged.

“Our workers are the ones who keep the College going, and I’ve always put myself out there for the people of this union,” said Bradford, who is employed as an assistant chef at Gordon Commons.

SEIU President Cathy BradfordPhoto: Grace Adams Ward ’24

The SEIU chapter represents the College’s food service workers and employees of Facilities and Operations. Bradford served as Vice President of the union for several years and took over the top post when longtime President Joseph Maio retired in December.

Bradford became a union delegate more than 15 years ago when she was a part-time worker, and she was a member of the negotiating team that reached an agreement with the College to include part-time employees in the union contract. “I’ve always been the kind of person who speaks her mind and stands up for people,” she said. “The union heard my voice when I became a delegate and I’ve been speaking up ever since.”

The student group Student/Labor Dialogue, which provides space for Vassar employees and students to work together towards improved working conditions at the College, issued the following statement endorsing Bradford’s election as union President: “Years of working with Cathy have shown us that no one could be better suited for this role. She is an unbelievably competent, passionate, and a deeply caring person. She has fought tirelessly for a better work environment and we have been consistently in awe of the energy and tenacity with which Cathy addresses each new issue. We look up to Cathy very much and look forward to working with her further.”

Brian Pugh, attorney and union representative for SEIU Local 200 United, congratulated Bradford on her new leadership post. “Increasingly, union leadership is representing the diversity of the rank and file. The ascension of a woman of color as the leader of a major bargaining unit at an economic powerhouse employer like Vassar College is a historic development,” Pugh said. “Cathy brings tremendous energy and passion to her work on behalf her coworkers. Being a grassroots labor leader is not a career. It’s a vocation, it’s a calling, and I’m so grateful that Cathy has answered the call.”

Bradford said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had generated new challenges for everyone at the College but especially for the workers she represents. “It’s been a scary time and there were safety concerns for our frontline workers,” she said. “We had to make sure we had the sanitizers and face masks and all the other protection we needed. And when the students returned, there was an extra workload preparing all the meals for those who were in isolation.”

Bradford said she was pleased with the way the union and College administration had worked together to preserve job security for SEIU workers during the pandemic. “The College has treated us well, and President Bradley has told me I can come to her with my concerns any time,” she said. “She’s been there for us.”

Carlos Garcia, Vice President for Technology and Human Resources, said he and others in the College administration were looking forward to working with Bradford. “We are very happy for Cathy as she begins this obvious next step as a leader within SEIU,” Garcia said. “Cathy has brought such impressive energy and sincerity to her work advocating for SEIU members over the years.  Vassar is committed to working transparently and collaboratively with Cathy as we build on the strong relationship with SEIU."

The new SEIU President said she had one major objective as she assumed leadership of the organization. “My goal is simply equal opportunity for everyone,” she said. “We have many different cultures represented in the union, so transparency and fairness in the workplace is my priority.”