WASHINGTON — The nation's fastest growing labor union elected its first woman president Saturday.
The Service Employees International Union selected Mary Kay Henry, head of the union's health care division, to lead the 2.2 million member union. She replaces Andy Stern, who is leaving after 14 years of high profile, and sometimes divisive, leadership.
Henry said she hopes to "restore" SEIU's relationship with other labor unions through a series of "listen and learn discussions." However, she said, there have been no talks at SEIU about rejoining the AFL-CIO.
"We don't think it's about how the labor movement is structured," Henry said Saturday.
In 2005, Stern led SEIU and six other unions to break away from the AFL-CIO – the nation's largest labor federation – to form the rival Change to Win federation. Stern had said the older federation was not effectively organizing new members to replace the millions dropping from union ranks year after year.
Henry said SEIU leaders decided Saturday to increase political spending on governor's races this November by $4 million. That would be on top of the $40 million SEIU had planned to spend this election cycle, Henry said.
In governor's races, SEIU plans to target Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New York and Ohio, Henry said.
SEIU also plans to spend $4 million on efforts to organize more private-sector workers, she said.
"Lets face it, working people have had it," Henry said. "Working people want real change."
SEIU's membership more than doubled under Stern, increasing by 1.2 million.
Henry's election was expected after her main rival for the post, Anna Burger, dropped out of the contest last month. Stern earlier this year announced his plans to step down from the union.