Stern deputy drops her bid to take over SEIU
By Alec MacGillis
The longtime lieutenant of Andrew L. Stern, the influential president of the Service Employees International Union, dropped her bid to succeed him on Wednesday, ceding the union's top spot to another veteran union official.
Anna Burger, the union's secretary-treasurer, stated in a letter to the union's executive board that she would support the election of Mary Kay Henry. Henry, the head of the union's health care division, has amassed a string of endorsements from key locals and union officials in the two weeks since Stern announced his retirement. Burger said she would stay on as secretary-treasurer, the union's number-two slot.
"Mary Kay Henry and I have been close allies for years, and we share the same goals for our union and for the larger labor movement. We have worked side-by-side on many initiatives over the years, and I wish her only the best as President of SEIU," Burger wrote. "We women have a special knack for putting our egos aside and keeping our eye on the bigger picture and the common good."
Given Burger's close ties to Stern, many observers have read the rapid shift of support to Henry as a rebuke of Stern. In 14 years at the union's helm, Stern managed to double its size at a time of general labor decline and raise its political profile, but he also had a highly polarizing effect both within his union and the labor movement as a whole.
It is far from certain, however, that Henry would lead a major shift in the union's course. She and Stern have their own long history of working together -- she arrived on the union's executive board the same year he became president -- and she has strongly supported one of his most controversial moves, the decision to clamp down on dissident leaders of a large California chapter.
In her letter, Burger said it was "just wrong" to interpret Henry's victory as a rejection of the Stern legacy. Stern himself said in an interview with The Washington Post that he saw both women as allies, either of whom would be good leaders.
"Mary Kay was the first person I hired -- when I became president, I gave her my most important position at the time, organizing director," he said. "Regardless of what preference I have, these are two people that have been my lifelong partners and I think the discussion as I'm hearing it in the union is not about [me], it's about who has the right vision, who people can feel comfortable with and build on what's happened here, not tear it down and change it."
April 28, 2010; 6:54 PM ET
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