Meet Big Union's New Boss; SEIU Juggernaut May Turn Away from Politics

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

Meet Big Union's New Boss; SEIU Juggernaut May Turn Away from Politics


Byline: Terrence Scanlon , SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The international executive board of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) met this weekend to formalize what already was considered a done deal. It chose Mary Kay Henry as president of SEIU to fill out the term of departing leader Andy Stern.

The choice of Ms. Henry to head the union has confounded many expectations. Mr. Stern had hoped his secretary-treasurer, Anna Burger, would replace him. He had reason to expect that would happen. During his presidency, the executive board backed Mr. Stern even when he was doing extremely controversial things, including taking over large union locals and feuding with prominent union leaders. On the Association for Union Democracy's website, Herman Benson last year charged that the executive board has allowed itself to become a housebroken appendage to Stern's will.

So why did the executive board refuse to roll over and play dead when it came time to choose Mr. Stern's successor? Call it the revenge of the vice presidents. Four of SEIU's executive vice presidents sent a letter to the executive board that played up the need to return to organizing as our top priority as well as the need to restore our relationships with the rest of the union movement and our progressive allies. The members found that pitch persuasive and signaled well in advance of the vote that Ms. Henry would be their choice.

Their vote could be viewed as a mixed decision about Mr. Stern's legacy. There are certain things that he did well that they hope Ms. Henry will continue. He built the SEIU into a powerhouse union by aggressively organizing many workers whom other unions did not want to woo. But some of that organizing energy has been siphoned off by Mr. Stern's interests in score-settling and left-leaning politics. Privately, few union leaders have anything good to say about the man, and his frequent trips to the White House have been controversial. The Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) had called for a formal inquiry into why, exactly, Mr. Stern wasn't subject to the normal lobbying disclosure rules when he clearly was lobbying. The AWF wanted to know the same about Ms. Burger.

Some observers have argued that Ms. Henry's election was the revenge of the locals. Mr. Stern was hard on local union bosses and pushed to consolidate several locals into fewer regional superunions. He wasn't always successful, and several of the officers he used to consolidate the locals were felled by scandal, creating much resentment. …

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Meet Big Union's New Boss; SEIU Juggernaut May Turn Away from Politics
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