Stern’s exit from SEIU catches many off-guard
Don’t expect major changes, experts say
With the abrupt departure last week of Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern, hospital officials should expect a continuation of the types of traits and tactics seen in the nation’s largest healthcare union in recent years.
Stern’s departure from the 2.2 million-member SEIU came as a swift surprise to observers, including many who considered themselves keyed into the union’s inner-workings. Stern left no apparent succession plan in place, gave no specific reason for his departure, and said publicly he has no job lined up for when he leaves office this month.
Nevertheless, experts say the leaders within SEIU who appear positioned to take the helm of the nation’s fastest-growing union were groomed under Stern’s tutelage and are not expected to make major changes to the way the union operates. That includes SEIU’s major focus on targeting unrepresented hospital employees for future organizational growth, and the union’s moderate stance toward employer relations as compared to other more-aggressive unions.
For example, the SEIU’s ongoing campaign to target workers at HCA facilities in many Southern states in partnership with the newly formed National Nurses United, or NNU, doesn’t appear likely to change, several observers said. NNU officials declined to offer any comment on the changeover in leadership.
One healthcare-specific arena where the change could make an impact is California. SEIU is scheduled to hold dozens of union elections in coming months as members are asked to decide whether they want to stay within SEIU or join a rival upstart, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, or NUHW, whose leadership is composed of former SEIU officials who were ousted by Stern last year.
The new group’s biggest goal is to ask for a similar vote among SEIU’s approximately 45,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities, but the outcome of that petition remains uncertain.
In a five-minute video message to the public announcing his departure on YouTube, Stern specifically mentioned the alliance with “one-time adversaries like Kaiser Permanente” as one of his top accomplishments during his 14 years as president of the SEIU.
But portraying Stern as a villain who espouses top-down leadership instead of local control has long been one of the main rallying cries for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which wants to suck up disaffected SEIU members into new bargaining units. “It removes an issue for the NUHW: the Stern-bashing,” says James Trivisonno, president of Detroit-based IRI Consultants.
Sal Rosselli, the interim president of the NUHW, said the leadership change is unlikely to lead to a new era of relations between his organization and SEIU. “I don’t see a possibility of that, because there’s a fundamental difference in ideology” between the groups, Rosselli said. “I see no difference between him and Anna Burger and Mary Kay Henry.”
An SEIU spokeswoman confirmed in an e-mail that SEIU Secretary/Treasurer Anna Burger and Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry were the most often-discussed successors to Stern.
Steve Early, a former national representative
Henry is the executive vice president at SEIU.
Burger is the union’s secretary/treasurer.