Julie Bracero Kelly is the General Manager of the New York New Jersey Regional Joint Board, Workers United (SEIU), and International Vice-President of Workers United.
She grew up in New Jersey in a union family, with a father who was a union organizer and ultimately President of OPEIU, and a mother who was a political activist. As a child, she was exposed to both politics and unions, observing strike lines and actions, and even spending time after school licking stamps and stuffing envelopes.
Bracero Kelly went to Boston University and studied political science, notably with Howard Zinn, author of The People’s History of the United States. During her time at school, she continued her political work as well as jobs necessary to pay the bills. Following that, Bracero Kelly worked for a local union in Boston, and then spent many years at SEIU as an organizer, working with locals to create member organizing committees. After her time at SEIU, she went to work for UNITE, as the Assistant National Organizing Director. She then joined the NY Joint Board as Organizing Director, later becoming Secretary Treasurer. Soon after elected General Manager of the union, the top position at the Joint Board. Here, she has brought her commitment to organize, mobilize and fight for members in manufacturing, retail, distribution and service sectors.
Bracero Kelly carries an infectious excitement about her work. “When I went to the interview for the position at UNITE, I remember thinking, ‘This is where I want to work. I found my home [when they hired me]. It was a very vibrant and energetic and creative place…taking on the biggest companies, ready to do whatever was necessary to change the world for workers.’ And that’s just the greatest feeling in the world for me, to be able to be a part of that.’”
Bracero Kelly has had many stand-outs in her career. One in the past that stands out to her was work on hotel organizing and contract campaigns. She describes a dynamic scene in Washington, D.C. at the time of George Bush’s inauguration: “We, along with a lot of other locals, took a whole city of hotels…members were in the streets constantly, around the clock. We won one of the best citywide contracts the city had seen.”
Currently, the union is working to organize nail salon workers, in partnership with NYCOSH and Adhikaar of the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition, an organization for Nepalese workers. “There are 35,000 workers in that industry, mostly immigrant women,” she says. “It’s a rough place to work. There are people who don’t get paid, or don’t get paid minimum wage, a toxic environment. Along with a lot of strong women leaders, we are working to change that.”
Bracero Kelly brings her strength and optimism even to the current challenges of our political climes. “It’s a hard time to be a working person in this country now,” she says. “[But] I think we are in a moment in time when people are understanding more and organizing more. We are under unbelievable assault, laws are turning against us. We have to change as a labor movement. We have the opportunity to look at things in a very different way.”
Bracero Kelly lives in New York with her wife, Lina Bracero Kelly, who was born and bred in the Bronx and works with the SEIU in the health care division. They live happily with their dog, Murray.