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Two-Time IU Alumna Jennifer Root Named to Growing Michigan Together Council

“I owe my start in life to unions and the contracts they negotiated. I have an obligation to help build that for the next generation,” says Jennifer Root, who was appointed to the Growing Michigan Together Council in 2023. Courtesy photo.

Volunteering on political campaigns with her mother was how Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Michigan Executive Director Jennifer M. Root, BA’01, JD’04, grew up.

“I remember going to vote with my mom and handing out flyers at polling places with her,” recalls Root, the second of four children, who was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., and currently resides in Howell, Mich.

Root, who earned an undergraduate degree from IPFW (now IU Fort Wayne) and a law degree from IUPUI, can distinctively remember wanting to phone canvass during the 1988 presidential election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis—although her mother considered her too young.  

In 1989, Root did get to campaign for Jill Long, MBA’78, PhD’84, who ran in a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives in Indiana’s 4th Congressional District. It was a highlight for Root, who finally got to canvass.

“She had been someone my mom knew in political circles; she’d been to our house, I knew her, we worked so hard for her campaign—and I got to phonebank—and she won,” Root recalls. “It really taught me that elected officials are just people you know, whose communities get behind them and entrust them with power to make their constituents’ lives better.”

After graduating from law school and working for almost seven years in political campaigns, Root became disenchanted with the transactional nature of that work. She would go into a community, build it up, and leave the day after Election Day without witnessing the fruits of her labors. Changing gears, she joined SEIU—which represents nearly 30,000 public and private sector workers across Michigan—in 2011 and has been in her current position since January 2020. In mid-2023, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Root to the Growing Michigan Together Council.

This council will advise Whitmer on specific policies to grow Michigan’s population and look at ways to prepare Michigan’s workforce for in-demand jobs and emerging industries through K-12 and higher education.

Additionally, to meet the needs of a growing population, the council will develop long-term sustainable transportation and infrastructure solutions. Along with the council’s other members, Root will represent the interests of many social and economic sectors, including the private sector, labor, non-profit, and education. Her term began June 30, 2023, and expires at the pleasure of Whitmer.

“I’m very humbled by the governor’s trust with this appointment,” Root says. “I love Michigan and I am excited to work with this diverse, dedicated group of Michiganders to grow our state.”

Root also has the utmost respect for unions and for the middle class, having grown up in a middle-class family where her parents were union members.

“We weren’t rich by any stretch, but I had health care, parents who could take time off when I was sick, vacations to Ohio, new sneakers when I needed them,” explains Root. “That was all because my parents had good union jobs that provided good benefits, middle-class wages, and meaningful retirement. I owe my start in life to unions and the contracts they negotiated. Fundamentally, I think to whom much is given, much is expected; I have an obligation to help build that for the next generation.”

Written By

Kurt Anthony Krug

Kurt Anthony Krug is a freelance writer based in Detroit. He has interviewed numerous celebrities, including Kevin Kline, BA’70, LHD’14, for the IU Alumni Magazine.

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