Rivals of America's most powerful union boss, Andy Stern, have cheered
the resignation of the SEIU's erstwhile leader.
But Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes
, a magazine covering the U.S. union scene, says a Stern resignation will not quell bitter disputes between the SEIU and rivals such as the Oakland-based National Union of Healthcare Workers and UNITE-HERE, the national food service, garment, and hotel workers union.
Today Stern announced his retirement, a move that is sure to set off a union power struggle between likely successors Anna Burger, the SEIU's secretary treasurer, and Mary Kay Henry, international executive vice president of the 2.2 million-member union.
A change in SEIU leadership would not "mean any change to labor
politics in California," said Brenner, in reference to an internecine
labor dispute in which former California SEIU leader Sal Rosselli seceded from the union to form the NUHW. Last week Rosselli's union lost a $750,000 judgment based on claims the
union used SEIU resources to foment the split
SEIU, meanwhile, has been accused of raiding the ranks of UNITE-HERE, as
a Stern-allied leader of that union last year formed a 100,000-worker breakaway group that re-affiliated with the SEIU.
feel like there's a point of no return in these kinds of
situations," said Brenner. "Are they going
to say, 'We are wrong.'? ... It's impossible to my mind that that's going
happen. This is a union that cannot -- it's in its DNA not to be able
to -- acknowledge that it fucked up. How often have you heard Stern
say, "That didn't work. We screwed that up.'? If you're coming out of a
culture that's so bent on maintaining the party line, and being good
cadre? How in the world are you going to do a sudden, 180-degree turn?"
Brenner isn't the only pundit weighing in on Stern's legacy. NPR,
The Washington Post, Bloomberg
, and The Los Angeles Times
were a few of the outlets with lengthy Stern postmortems, written prior to his official announcement today.
Stern was praised for adding 800,000 new members to SEIU's rolls. He oversaw aggressive campaigns to organize janitors, homecare workers, and nursing home employees. But his union gained members at a cost. He attempted to encroach on the turf of rival unions such as the California Nurses Association, the Puerto Rican teachers union, and UNIITE HERE. Much of the SEIU's membership growth was criticized as illusory.
In California, the union boasts of representing 150,000 homecare workers and nursing home employees. But the homecare workers aren't really "organized" in the way most people understand trade unionism. Rather, the SEIU lobbied Sacramento Democrats to tap the union as an official intermediary between the state -- which provides subsidies for invalids' home care -- and workers. Private nursing home companies, meanwhile, where recruited to sign a secret agreement in which workers would be allowed to unionize in exchange for reduced worker pay and protections, and a promise by the union to lobby against patients' rights bills supported by advocates for the elderly.
This strategy was originally supported by Sal Rosselli, leader of the SEIU affiliate United Health Care Workers West. But Rosselli criticized the policy privately. And Stern retaliated when the critiques went public.