SEIU President Andy Stern to resign
By Mark Gruenberg 18 April 2010
|WASHINGTON - Service Employees President Andy Stern announced he will resign as head of the 2.2-million-member union. He set no date but an SEIU spokeswoman said he will leave “within a month.”
|Stern made the announcement during his union’s executive board meeting April 14 in Washington, after media reports surfaced of an internal E-mail from SEIU leader Diane Sosne in Seattle to her board colleagues, announcing his decision.
Stern will be succeeded by union Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger until the board schedules an election, within a month of his departure, to elect a new permanent president. Like Stern, Burger is 59 and a Pennsylvanian.
“There's a time to learn, a time to lead, and then there's a time to leave,” Stern e-mailed his members. “And shortly, it will be my time to retire...and end my SEIU journey,” which started after he graduated from college 38 years ago and joined Local 668 in Pennsylvania.
“My time at SEIU has always been about the members. Together, we've organized over 1.2 million new members into our SEIU family since I became president in 1996. SEIU is now the largest union in North America and fastest growing worldwide,” his e-mail claimed. That may not be correct: The National Education Association, which considers itself the larger of the nation’s two teachers unions, has more than 3 million members.
In his more formal announcement, posted on the union’s website, Stern said he was leaving after achieving signal accomplishments. They include growing the union, first as organizing director and then as president, energizing SEIU to become politically activist and help put Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in the White House and lobbying hard and successfully for health care reform.
"With the strength and power of SEIU members’ voices we have accomplished what once seemed unimaginable. And, I can imagine no greater honor than these hard-working Americans entrusting me to represent them and their voice. That voice, that conviction is why health insurance reform is now law, and why our country will continue to move forward,” he declared.
But Stern also leaves at a time when questions about SEIU’s relations with the rest of the labor movement, and the union’s finances, have been raised:
• Stern helped encourage a nasty split of UNITE HERE – a colleague union in SEIU-founded Change To Win – which saw only one-third of that union’s members follow former President Bruce Raynor into SEIU. Raynor is now on SEIU’s board. The other two-thirds, led by UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm, returned to the AFL-CIO.
• SEIU led Change To Win, which saw seven unions break away from the AFL-CIO in 2005: SEIU, UNITE HERE, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Laborers, the Carpenters, the Farm Workers and the Teamsters. But CTW, founded to put more emphasis on organizing and less on politics, has run into problems. It recently laid off a share of its staff. Meanwhile, the Carpenters left CTW last year, the Laborers rejoined the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department – but not the federation itself – and the rest of UNITE HERE returned to the AFL-CIO. UFCW President Joe Hansen and Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan preserve warm relations with both federations.
• Stern recently led SEIU in a long legal battle against the National Union of Healthcare Workers, formerly his own union’s 150,000-member United Health Care Workers West, SEIU’s largest local. The fight cost millions of dollars, as SEIU charged NUHW leaders with fraud and misuse of union funds – after those leaders protested against Stern’s imposition of contracts, over their heads and their members’ heads, in California. SEIU won the battle: $1.5 million in damages. But it had asked for $25 million and jurors threw out its substantive charges against NUHW.
• Stern’s statement said SEIU “is financially sound,” but bloggers and media reports disagreed with him. The Washington Post reported the union’s liabilities substantially exceed its assets – and that most of those assets are in dues pledges from locals, which are running behind targets. Bloggers asserted, in commenting on the resignation story, that SEIU’s pension plan for its own workers is only 65% funded.
SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette said Stern “hasn’t figured out what he wants to do next, but will engage with labor in some way.”
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.