'Occupy Wall Street' and similar protests around the nation were only the beginning. The Service Employees International Union, as much as anyone, is making sure of it. The SEIU these past several months has been playing a crucial behind-the-scenes role in transforming these rallies into the raw material for a new generation of activists. Through varied front groups, the union is taking its fight against banks, energy companies and other corporations to a new level, making sure reluctant elected officials feel their wrath. These nonprofit organizations, typically operating under monikers such as "good jobs" and "a fair economy," may seem spontaneous and benign. Yet they are union stage-managed. And as their leaders become more sophisticated and networked, unions may wind up a good deal more effective in their drive to place the U.S. economy under public control.
Union leaders, frustrated over their inability to sway Congress, more than ever are relying upon the National Labor Relations Board to enact stealth legislation. The board, now with a Democratic majority, seems willing to oblige them. Case in point: an NLRB proposal announced last Tuesday, June 21, and published in the Federal Register the next day, to substantially reduce the duration of election campaigns for union representation. While the board touts the regulation as an overdue streamlining of an inefficient system, its covert motive, say critics, is to hamstring employer opposition.
When President Obama in March 2010 signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), the nation's most expensive social legislation in decades, he announced, "The bill I'm signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see." Yet what the law seems to have set in motion is a rush to obtain exemptions from group coverage requirements.
Stephen Lerner is a hard person to admire. His specialty, after all, is economic sabotage. Yet his utility to the cause of public accountability is undeniable. Lerner, a longtime official with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) until his supposed ouster last November, was caught on March 18 and 19 on audiotape speaking before a closed-session audience at Pace University in Manhattan describing an SEIU plan to destabilize the U.S. economy. The campaign, which he heads, intends to take down the financial sector and trigger a massive redistribution of wealth and power.
Admirers may still call her "the queen of American labor," but Anna Burger (see photo) is now without a throne. Last week Burger stepped down as secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union and as chairwoman of the SEIU-driven labor federation, Change to Win. Her resignations, which came on the heels of her announcement, weren't unexpected to those who know her. Her boss and longtime ally, Andrew Stern, only a few months earlier had resigned as Service Employees president. And Burger couldn't secure the needed support from the union's executive committee in her bid to become Stern's successor. The top spot went to Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry. Though publicly she welcomed Ms. Henry's ascension, privately she was planning her exit. That's the nature of power struggles in any type of organization: Odd person out leaves.
It may have been a formality, but the executive board of the Service Employees International Union this past Saturday overwhelmingly named SEIU Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry to succeed Andrew Stern as the labor organization's next president. The 73-member governing body met in Washington, D.C. to select Ms. Henry, who ran unopposed after Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger dropped out of the race a little over a week earlier. Henry, like Burger, is a Stern loyalist.
The successor to Andrew Stern as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had come down to his two top aides. Now it's down to one. Late last week, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger announced that she had dropped out of the race for interim president, virtually assuring that the union's executive board this week will name Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry for that position. As each was a Stern ally - he'd referred to them as "lifelong partners" - the race was less about politics than personality and management style. In a letter withdrawing her candidacy, Burger termed Ms. Henry, who also heads the SEIU health care division, her "union sister" and stated she would work closely with her. Burger wrote: "The media is just wrong when they suggest that this contest represents a shift in SEIU's priorities or a rejection of the Stern/Burger agenda."