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Dennis Rivera Papers

Identifier: MSS 112

Scope and Contents

The Dennis Rivera Papers houses personal records of Dennis Rivera as well as publications by the 1199 Service Employees International Union and press clippings from various news outlets. This collection, which dates from 1987 to 1999, consists of photographs, awards, news clippings, copies of editorials, photo negatives, and bound volumes of union publications, documenting the professional career and political work of Dennis Rivera as well as capturing moments from his personal life. An influential labor leader and organizer as well as involved community advocate, this collection of Dennis Rivera provides insight into his relationships with various political figures, community organizations, and his union members and offers at the same time, a glimpse into his personal outlook through his reflections upon social issues and cultural identity.

As a long serving leader of the largest healthcare worker union, 1199 SEIU, Rivera possesses deep ties and connections to labor organizing as well as years of experience with the healthcare industry and its operations. This collection provides insight into his public figure and perception as reflected by the awards and recognition he received, the articles in New York Magazine and other publications featuring his organizing efforts and campaigning, and the photographs of Rivera with various notable political and cultural leaders. The collection does not, however, offer a comprehensive look into his organizing career as the materials are limited to the late 1980s up to the 1990s. Researchers interested in his personal life and outlook can find photographs of family and friends on various outings as well as view copies of his contributions in Spanish and English to media outlets such as El Diario and El Mundo, however, these records are similarly confined to the time period of the late 1980s to 1990s. The collection is divided into six series: “ Writings, March 1990 - June 1993“, “Articles, May 1992“, “Awards, 1993-1996”, “Photographs, 1980s-1990s”, “Books - 1199 News, 1987-1993”, and “Artifacts, 1989-1997.”

“Writings, March 1990 - June 1993” contains articles authored by Rivera in English and Spanish covering a range of topics for publications such as El Mundo and El Diario.

“Articles, May 1992” contains articles written about Rivera in publications such as the New York Magazine and a publication from Bread and Roses.

“Awards, 1993- 1996” consists of two to three awards presented to Rivera by labor groups in recognition of his efforts to promote organizing efforts.

“Photographs, 1980s-1990s” contain multiple folders of photographs of Rivera, family members, friends, politicians and church leaders, and scenery from personal travel. This series is subdivided into folders arranged by topic.

“Books - 1199 News, 1987- 1993” consists of bound volumes of publications created for members of the 1199 SEIU which include a regular column authored by Rivera addressing various issues relevant to the union.

“Artifacts, 1989-1997” include medals or tokens of appreciation presented to Rivera in recognition of his organizing work and political efforts.


  • Creation: 1987-1996


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is held by Centro.

Biographical / Historical

Dennis Rivera is a Puerto Rican-born organizer, labor leader, and political figure who served as president of the powerful healthcare worker’s union, 1199 Service Employees International Union (S.E.I.U), for over eighteen years.

Rivera was born in the small rural town of Aibonito, Puerto Rico in 1950. Initially attending the Colegio Universitario de Cayey, Rivera ultimately left school early due to a passion for social justice, embarking on a career as a labor organizer. In this role, he helped to build unions for health care workers and municipal employees in Puerto Rico. Moving to New York City in 1977, Rivera would continue this work, taking on a position with 1199 S.E.I.U.

In 1989, Rivera was elected president of the 1199 S.E.I.U. which was a contentious and divided union at this time. During his eighteen years as president, Rivera was successfully able to bridge divisions within his union and increase membership from 78,000 members to 300,000 members. Along with the growth in membership, Rivera was able to increase the influence and reach of the union, creating alliances with political figures and groups and winning important concessions for members. Featured in such publications as the New York Times Magazine, Rivera was touted in 1992 as the “new face of the labor movement” highlighting his popularity and increasing influence within the New York State political sphere.

After stepping down as president of 1199 S.E.I.U. in 2007, Rivera moved to the position of chairman for the larger S.E.I.U. organization representing over a million health care workers and pushing for broad agendas such as universal healthcare and pro-labor legislation. In the late 2010s, Rivera has spoken on issues such as crises of debt and healthcare infrastructure in Puerto Rico as well as nationwide healthcare delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic drawing from his years of experience and insight into the healthcare structures.

Throughout his lifetime and particularly during his tenure as president of the 1199 S.E.I.U. union, Rivera received many awards and accolades for his organizing work and contributions to various causes from an array of political organizations, legal association, and humanitarian groups. His influence and work has led to recognition and acknowledgement by such high profile figures as former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.


The New York Times, “Labor Leader Is Parting, With a Shot”, Steven Greenhouse, January 30, 2007 The New York Times Magazine, “A New Face for American Labor”, Sam Roberts, May 10, 1992 NBC News “President of United Healthcare Workers East Dennis Rivera Talks Puerto Rican Debt Crisis”, April 25, 2016


5.25 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


Rivera was a labor leader, former president of New York's largest health care union, 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, and former chairman of the million-member health-care division of the Service Employees International Union. The collections include Rivera’s writings, photographs and negatives documenting his personal and professional lives, artifacts and bound volumes of 1199 News.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Dennis Rivera.

Dennis Rivera Papers
In Progress
Ana Rosa Perez, Archive staff members under the supervision of Pedro Juan Hernandez
February 2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.