Andy Stern Announces Resignation From SEIU, Successors Likely To Continue Campaign Against NUHW

In a move that has taken the labor world by surprise, Andy Stern yesterday announced his resignation from his position as president of the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”) before his term officially ends in 2012. In a brief video statement, Stern said “[s]hortly will be my time to retire... and end my SEIU journey.”

Speculation has run rampant as to his motives for resigning at this time. Some commentators have hypothesized that Stern, nearly 60 years old and tired of the daily grind of running one of the nation’s most influential — yet turbulent — unions, is simply retiring after achieving one of his primary goals: the passage of health care legislation. Others have concluded that some unknown negative factor is the cause. Still others attribute the timing to repercussions from the Serv. Employees Int’l Union v. Rosselli verdict (see below), especially given that he failed to pave the way for a clear-cut successor. Stern indirectly addressed such rumors, stating that “I've never been healthier. I've been vetted before being named to the president's fiscal commission, and I leave the job I love by choice.”

Following his departure, Stern will be succeeded by his second-in-command, Anna Burger. Burger is presently the secretary-treasurer of SEIU and president of Change To Win, a coalition of labor unions that disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO in 2005. Burger will act as president of the SEIU for 30 days, at which point SEIU will hold an election to formally select Stern’s replacement. The new president will then finish out Stern’s term, which ends in 2012. Burger is expected to vie for the union’s presidency. Another candidate expected to challenge Burger for the presidency is Mary Kay Henry, the international executive vice president of SEIU and a prominent union leader.

While there is some speculation that the succession of either to the union’s presidency increases the likelihood of reconciliation with former allies UNITE HERE and AFL-CIO, neither appears to have any intentions of, or inclinations towards, reconciling with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (“NUHW”), the rival union formed by former SEIU local president Sal Rosselli and his allies. In fact, both Burger and Henry were reported as being strong supporters of placing that local, the United Healthcare Workers-West (“UHW”), in trusteeship while it was under the leadership of Rosselli and other current NUHW leaders.

Henry, in particular, is not likely to extend an olive branch to NUHW. More than merely supporting imposition of the trusteeship, Henry is reputed to have been a central figure in making that decision. Moreover, Henry delivered a scathing diatribe against Rosselli during a debate in March 2008 (while Rosselli was still a part of the SEIU-UHW team), and testified against him during the trial (see below). She also oversees SEIU’s long-term division, the disputed direction of which led to the trusteeship and the formation of NUHW. Therefore, it is unlikely that any reconciliation between NUHW and SEIU-UHW will occur upon Stern’s resignation, especially if Henry is the one to take the helm of SEIU’s leadership.