Stern Exit May Make Big Labor More Powerful

April 14, 2010 03:54

Andy Stern, 59, president of the Service Employees International Union, surprised many when it was leaked late Monday that he was stepping down. It seemed inexplicable: He was a close ally and adviser to the White House, so why give that up that kind of power?

By Sean Higgins   at IBD

The answer may lie in the fact that his retirement could heal Big Labor’s schism. In 2005, Stern led the SEIU and other unions, including the Teamsters, out of the AFL-CIO to form a rival coalition, Change to Win. The coalition has struggled, and the AFL-CIO has made overtures to get the rebel unions back in the fold.

While the split was officially about disputes over Big Labor’s direction in the 21st century, many insiders viewed it as a personality clash between Stern and then-AFL-CIO head John Sweeney.

Sweeney has since retired. Stern’s retirement would give both coalitions new leadership and make burying the past easier. Stern would be spared the embarrassment of admitting that his breakaway coalition failed.

Stern’s departure then may be his final gift to Big Labor. His legacy already includes the most pro-labor White House since the Johnson administration and arguably even FDR.

Little known to the public at large, the politically savvy Stern was one of the most powerful figures in Washington. First elected SEIU head in 1996, he led one of the few unions to actually see its membership expand in recent years. During his tenure, membership grew by an estimated 1.2 million, to 2.2 million today.

The SEIU made itself a force in national politics as well. It raised $24 million for lawmakers in the last decade — virtually all of it for Democrats. At election time, its members are ubiquitous at campaign rallies and events.

Stern’s SEIU was the first major union to endorse then-Sen. Obama. This came at a time when the Democratic nomination appeared to be Hillary Clinton’s to lose. Most other unions withheld their endorsements until late in the primary season. Stern would go on to become one of Obama’s closest allies. While not the only labor leader Obama listened to, Stern was closer than the rest.

By October 2009, Stern had visited the White House 22 times. He was the single most frequent visitor.


Help Make A Difference By Sharing These Articles On Facebook, Twitter And Elsewhere: