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Stern’s Chosen Successor Headed for Rejection by Union Members (Read More…)

April 27, 2010
By Holly Rosenkrantz

April 27 (Bloomberg)—The Service Employees International Union, the nation’s fastest-growing labor union, is poised to reject the successor favored by departing President Andy Stern, spurning his emphasis on cultivating power in Washington.

Four international vice presidents of the 2.2 million- member union and the heads of some of the largest local unions endorsed Mary Kay Henry, an executive vice president who made her name at the union by organizing California nurses.

Henry mobilized support over Stern ally Anna Burger by promising to heal internal rifts that grew while Stern became known for his high-level access to politicians. The union leader played a leading role in passage of health-care legislation and visited the White House 22 times in the first six months of President Barack Obama’s administration, making him the most frequent outside visitor.

“Our local unions and divisions should drive our national priorities, not the other way around,” Henry wrote in a campaign memo to SEIU leaders. “Our national initiatives should be designed to put wind in the sails of our local and industry- based organizing strategies.”

Stern, 59, said on April 14 that he was stepping down after 14 years as the union’s president because “I’ve seen too many leaders who have stayed on too long.” The election, by the union’s executive board, will be held in May.

The letter from four of SEIU’s nine international vice presidents to the executive board said members “have expressed a desire to return to organizing as our top priority.

“It’s time to restore our relationship with the union movement and our progressive allies,” Gerry Hudson, Eliseo Medina, Dave Regan and Tom Woodruff wrote in their letter, which was reported yesterday by Politico.com.

Stern’s ‘Combative Strategy’
Stern’s critics in the union have said his centralized organization and leadership style bred fighting among local chapters, particularly those based in fast-growing health-care industries. Members felt Stern was installing his aides to run their organizations and quashing democracy, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor history professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

“Stern resigning was an admission that his internal combative strategy was draining SEIU of the human capital that built it,” Lichtenstein said in an interview

Henry, 52, is an executive vice president of SEIU and is based in Washington. She grew up in the Detroit suburbs and has been an SEIU organizer since 1979. A founder of the union’s gay and lesbian caucus, she led organizing drives for health-care workers at Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Beverly Enterprises Inc.

“She is a somewhat unexpected choice,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley, in an interview. “It’s an emphasis on organizing, grass roots involvement, and bringing the labor movement together.”

Change to Win
Burger, 59, is the secretary-treasurer at SEIU and the head of Change to Win, the labor federation that Stern created as a rival to the larger AFL-CIO. A career union organizer, Burger worked closely with Stern on national issues such as health care and the stalled “card-check” legislation that would make union organizing easier.

Burger shares Stern’s access in Washington. Obama appointed her to his Economic Recovery Board last year, and she joined Stern as a guest at Obama’s first state dinner in November.

The SEIU spent $85 million to help elect Democrats to the White House and Congress in 2008. Henry pledged she would maintain the union’s political clout in campaigns for the November midterm elections even as she placed increased emphasis on grassroots organizing. “It was never an either-or situation,” Henry said in her memo to union leaders.
Reunion With AFL-CIO

Henry’s election to head the SEIU may speed the reunion of SEIU and other breakaway unions with the 11-million-member AFL- CIO, the nation’s oldest labor federation. Stern and Burger led seven unions out of the AFL-CIO in 2005; two have returned since then.

“There are reasons now to look at what rejoining the AFL- CIO could mean,” said Diane Sosne, president of SEIU 1199NW, a local based in Washington state. “Times are different now.”

Posted by Admin on 04/27 at 11:56 AM
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