Under the leadership of former president Andy Stern the SEIU leadership worried less about the traditional labor organizing role of a union and more about moving forward a progressive political agenda. Andy Stern’s focus was Washington DC, he garnered his union forces behind Obmacare to the point where SEIU members became somewhat of a traveling goon squad, showing up at town halls and tea party rallys to try and intimidate people away from their anti-Obamacare position, putting one St. Louis protester in the hospital, disrupting another in Connecticut, and biting off the finger of a protester in Ventura County California (now there is a rule for all town hall attendees, Never say “bite me” to a member of the SEIU).
In a very surprising development, the union rejected Andy Stern’s hand picked successor Anna Burger,and instead chose Mary Kay Henry who was the leader of the SEIU’s California nurses local, which according to John Fund was going to lead a turn away from the DC emphasis of the old regime.
Mary Kay Henry, leader of SEIU’s California nurses local, is said to want to reorient the union away from political action and back to old-fashioned organizing. Anna Burger, Mr. Stern’s protégé, was seen as poorly-suited to deal with SEIU’s bottom line — the fact that its pension programs have been neglected and underfunded and the union itself is $85 million in debt. While its political clout in Washington and its hand-in-glove relationship with the Obama administration was impressive under Mr. Stern, he seemed to forget that a union needs to recruit new members and work with others in the labor movement.
No one doubts that SEIU will continue to play a crucial role in Democratic Party politics. But its turn away from the Stern approach of making the union into a financial and manpower arm of the Democratic Party is a sign an overdue internal reevaluation has been taking place. Mr. Stern landed the union in its share of scandals during his tenure, including his cozy relationship with the disgraced activist group ACORN, which had SEIU as its single biggest source of funds. He did succeed in delivering electoral wins in 2006 and 2008, but the union’s political agenda in Congress is now stalled and the union itself is likely to be preoccupied with retrenching and getting its own house in order.
Don’t get too excited, like Fund says, they SEIU is going to continue being a supporter of Progressive Politics, but in the end may spend time taking care of their own, instead of taking care of the President.