The announcement this week that labor's maverick leader, Andy
Stern, is stepping down -- "very soon" in the words of a colleague --
creates a void in the country's labor movement at an awkward
The 59-year-old Stern has led the Service Employees International
Union since 1996 and made it the country's most politically active
labor organization. Stern is very close to President Obama and, like
the president, called the health care bill a victory for working
Stern's tenure has been marked by controversy: it was under Stern
that the SEIU separated from the AFL-CIO, which Stern believed had
dropped the ball on organizing. A heated, high-profile trial against
union insurgents in California is on-going; and charges that Stern is
too quick to make concessions have dogged him for years.
Loyalists point to the union's growth -- to 1.9 million workers --
and other gains: the recent appointment of a labor lawyer to the
National Labor Relations Board and a former SEIU officer serves as
political director in the White House today.
But what labor needs most is unity, especially at a time when
pressure on working people in America is mounting. And that should be
the highest priority as the SEIU considers who will fill the shoes of
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