Denis Johnston is a Vice President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), New York’s largest private-sector union and the country’s largest property services union. As director of 32BJ’s Security Division, Johnston coordinates the union’s security program throughout all of its jurisdictions.
From his first volunteer work with El Salvadoran refugees after graduating from Rutgers University, Johnston has worked to improve the lives of immigrants for the past 30 years. He now continues this work as a founder and president of the board of directors for Peace Works, a New Jersey nonprofit that works to aid the peoples of the Americas and support progressive change in the U.S.
Although his maternal grandmother—Mary Bajowski, a Polish immigrant—was a 32BJ cleaner in lower Manhattan in the 1960’s and ‘70s, it was SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign that first brought Johnson to the union. He joined 32BJ in 2001 when the union embarked on an industry-wide effort to improve the lives of 10,000 New Jersey janitors.
That campaign led to an assignment building the 32BJ Commercial Division in Westchester County and later in Fairfield County before becoming a district supervisor in New York City. In March 2008, Johnston took over the fledgling New York City Security Division just as 32BJ was entering one of its largest periods of growth, adding 7,000 new members over five years.
The New York Metro Security Division has grown from 1,000 member security officers at that campaign’s start to more than 13,000 today and more than 25,000 in 32BJ. In 2012, 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa assigned Johnston to oversee the security division not just in the New York Metro region but union-wide. The division has seen steady growth since he took this post and secured a strong 4-year contract in 2016. Under Johnston’s leadership the security division has also pioneered some of the union’s most successful member training and engagement programs.
“It’s always been a blessing and an honor to do this work,” Johnston says. “I can’t think of anything else I would rather do.”
Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Johnston is an avid backpacker, an outdoorsman and a cook. He and his wife, Jazmina, are the parents of three daughters and a son.