FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The Generals Who Vie for SEIU’s Top Spot
Two days after Politico broke the story of the resignation of lavender-lapeled lord of labor, SEIU’s Andy Stern, and two days before the controversial Stern confirms or denies his intent to leave the purple behemoth he has led, it appears warfare may be breaking out between the generals of Andy Stern’s army of purple patrons.
According to the Daily News, the generals lining up their supporters are Andy Stern’s right-hand (wo)man, the “Queen of Labor,” Anna Burger (whom we wrote about yesterday), SEIU International VP Mary Kay Henry, and the powerful Dennis Rivera, who led the SEIU’s war room to get ObamaCare passed.
Dennis Rivera, it should be noted, has not officially thrown his fedora in the ring, according to the Daily News. However, he is reportedly being urged to run.
Like Stern, Rivera is a charismatic figure known for his innovative methods. Though Rivera spearheaded SEIU’s health care reform efforts in Washington, he has shown little appetite in recent years for taking on additional union responsibilities.
“If Dennis wants the job, Anna won’t be able to beat him,” one 1199 leader said.
Though he is powerful inside and outside the SEIU, like Andy Stern, Rivera is not without his detractors—especially in Puerto Rico, where native-born Rivera (and the SEIU) was accused of attempting to “bust” the existing teachers’ union in a back-door deal that would have delivered Puerto Rico’s teachers into the arms of the SEIU.
While Rivera initially denied the claims, the SEIU did bring about an election where the Puerto Rican teachers voted down a SEIU-shell union. Puerto Rico’s teachers were so upset with the SEIU, they picketed the SEIU’s 2008 convention in Puerto Rico (video here).
Mr. Stern said his union picked Mr. Rivera to oversee its health care campaign because “we needed our General Petraeus to win this war.”
Mr. Rivera commands a much smaller army: 400 union staff members working full time for health care reform, an unusually large lobbying force that is part of the tens of millions of dollars the union has devoted to the campaign. In Maine, Montana, North Dakota and a dozen other states, the union’s activists have held news conferences and written op-ed articles decrying America’s health care system, all to push lawmakers to back reform.
After 18 years running the giant New York local, 1199/S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, Mr. Rivera has grown comfortable in Washington. He now wears suits, after years of wearing a $5 navy blazer he bought at a thrift shop. Soft-spoken, thin and 59 years old, he talks with hints of his native Puerto Rico, where his father was a factory manager.
As Rivera is roughly the same age as allegedly-retiring Stern, he may or may not want to take over the top job at the SEIU. However, as noted above, if he throws his fedora into the ring, it could be his for the taking.
Cat-Fight: The Queen of Labor or Maven Mary?
Mary Kay Henry (press kit here) is an Executive Vice President of the Union of Purple People Eaters. As such, she sits one rung lower on the SEIU’s ladder than Anna Burger (who is the SEIU’s Secretary-Treasurer), and two steps beneath Andy Stern’s purple shoes.
As head of the SEIU’s health care division, Henry’s total compensation was $231,348 (to Burger’s $252,724 and Stern’s $306,388) in 2009 and she apparently has her eyes set on dethroning the “Queen of Labor.”
According to BeyondChron, Stern’s departure…
… leaves Anna Burger and Mary Kay Henry scrambling to win majority support on the Executive Board. While Stern groomed Burger as his successor, he leaves office without ensuring a smooth path for her election. And considering that Burger is more closely identified with Stern’s policies, the Executive Board may prefer to give the appearance of charting a new course by selecting Henry as the new President.
Like Rivera and Burger, Henry also has made a few enemies inside and outside the SEIU. In California, where the SEIU has embroiled itself in a civil war of its own creation, Henry has been heavily involved in both the takeover of the SEIU-UHW local (to the extent she allegedly even called the police on the SEIU’s own members), as well as the lawsuit against the SEIU’s former local union leaders.
…Mary Kay Henry [above] opened the door to her own cross-examination over the undemocratic trusteeship process, and ended up admitting that the long-term-care workers (who such urgent action had to be taken to protect) are still part of UHW, as the trustees haven’t gotten around to complying with the IEB’s order yet! Almost every document SEIU tried to submit today was heavily redacted (blacked out), but after the judge agreed with the defendants’ lawyers, many redactions ended up getting redacted, with the documents going to the jury whole.
The Queen of Labor Hopes to Hold Her Crown
As “the most powerful woman in the labor movement” Anna Burger is clearly the most visible of the three front runners to Andy Stern’s throne. She, like Stern, is a frequent visitor to the White House (she made 43 visits to Stern’s 38 in 2009), as well as well-acquainted with liberal billionaire George Soros.
As co-chair of George Soros’ Democracy Alliance (PDF), Burger is also Chair of the failed Change to Win coalition (the group of unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005) and also sits on President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
As Andy Stern’s dance partner in the 2005 break-up of the AFL-CIO, however, her possible filling in where Andy leaves off may not sit well with other union bosses at the AFL-CIO, especially as talks of re-unification are likely to intensify.
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.
Moreoever, as the Daily News notes:
Stern’s second in command and anointed successor – Anna Burger, the union’s secretary-treasurer – has never been popular among its top leadership.
Nor, is she popular with the union that represents SEIU’s staff:
Union members yesterday picketed an event at which their boss was being honored – accusing her of union-busting and anti-worker policies in connection with layoffs and contract talks at their workplace. Nothing unusual about union pickets – except that the boss, Anna Burger, is one of the nation’s top labor leaders, and a key executive in one of its fastest growing unions, the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU. “Anna Burger is a hypocrite…” [More here.]
If the reports are true, and Andy Stern steps down as the head of SEIU, a sad chapter in the once proud union’s history will come to an end.
Stern’s legacy is that he took control of an organization built by more than a million hardworking janitors, healthcare workers, and public servants, and used their resources primarily to secure his own political power.
Instead of helping workers build their own strong organizations, he “restructured” existing unions and put his own loyalists in charge: appointees like Tyrone Freeman who could always be trusted to vote with Stern, even if they couldn’t be trusted to keep their hands out of the till.
Instead of uniting workers, Stern split the AFL-CIO in half, only to tear apart his own “Change to Win” federation four years later with an unprecedented raid on Unite Here.
Stern’s departure would leave SEIU with a crisis of leadership. His likely successors, Mary Kay Henry and Anna Burger, have been tarred by the same ethics scandals and failed policies that marred his tenure. Stern’s legacy is that SEIU has become a rogue union, undemocratic, unable to pay its bills, and unwilling to defend its members at the national level.
The challenge for SEIU is not simply to choose a successor, but to reverse years of bad policy, restore accountability, and steer away from the brink.
We’ll keep watching and reporting, so stay tuned.
[Emphasis added throughout.]
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
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