Under Stern's 14-year tenure as president, SEIU doubled membership, led efforts to elect President Barack Obama and helped pass historic healthcare reform act.
WASHINGTON DC-- Today, Andy Stern, president of the 2.2-million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), announced his plans to retire. A 38-year member of the union, Stern has spent the last 14 years making SEIU North America's largest and the world's fastest growing union.
"With the strength and power of SEIU members voices we have accomplished what once seemed unimaginable. And, I can imagine no greater honor than these hard-working Americans entrusting me to represent them and their voice. That voice, that conviction is why health insurance reform is now law; and why our country will continue to move forward."
In a videotaped announcement to the members of the union, Stern indicated that he would soon be stepping down and that SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger would assume the role of interim-president until the International Executive Board (IEB) votes on a successor. The SEIU Constitution stipulates that the IEB must schedule an election within 30 days.
SEIU: The Organizing Union. Stern joined SEIU in 1972 as a member of Local 668 in Pennsylvania and built his reputation as an organizer in the field, taking on antagonistic employers and bargaining contracts. In 1984, SEIU's then-president John Sweeney brought Stern to DC to coordinate a national organizing drive for the union. In 1996, Stern was elected the youngest president in SEIU history.
During Stern's tenure as president, SEIU grew by more than 1.2 million members even as most unions were losing ground. As SEIU increased its strength for members on the job, at the bargaining table, in the community and worldwide, the union changed the economic future of and career opportunities for millions of mostly invisible, low-wage workers through its high profile campaigns:
- Justice for Janitors (janitors),
- Stand for Security (security officers),
- Invisible No More (home care workers),
- National Health Care Workers Union (healthcare providers),
- SEIU Kids First (childcare),
- Quality Public Services (public workers), and
- Everybody Wins (public workers).
Historic struggles for workers in Miami, Houston, Canada and Puerto Rico, have earned SEIU the reputation as a union that wins for workers against all odds.
"A Different Kind of Labor Leader." As Stern stressed the need to build a new 21st century union movement, he pushed labor to modernize and build stronger partnerships with employers and faith-based, environmental and community organizations who share members' aspirations.
"Change is inevitable;" Stern liked to say. "It's progress that's optional."
Over the past 14 years and in full partnership with an engaged and informed membership, SEIU has become the most diverse, rank-and-file led organization in labor history. SEIU members have repeatedly endorsed Stern's leadership of the union, throwing their support behind creative and unprecedented initiatives such as:
- committing to national and global organizing;
- turning SEIU "purple" to advance its national identity;
- promoting innovation and quality services;
- practicing a more independent, issue based politics;
- reorganizing and restructuring local unions along industry lines to unite workers strength;
- holding companies and financial institutions like Wal-Mart and Bank of America accountable to the people who rely on their services;
- championing critical issues for working families including healthcare, economic security and immigration reform; and
- adopting the toughest code of ethical practices of any union.
Stern also used his position to promote a vision of global unionism. Under his leadership, SEIU established and funded a global organizing center for property service workers inside the global union UNI, and Stern was the first union leader in recent history to visit and sign a formal agreement in China with the ACFTU. Today SEIU boasts staff working in Europe, Australia, South America and Mexico.
In 2005, Stern was part of a movement that led 7 unions representing 6 million workers out of the AFL-CIO to form Change to Win, which has focused on helping unions gain new strength by organizing.
At the union's 2008 convention, Stern told the member delegates, "It is not just about us. It is about Justice for All."
The members agreed. His platform and election slate earned more than 90 percent of the vote.
Political Victories. Stern's belief that the political process should benefit and be accountable to working women and men led to the enhancement of SEIU's issue- and member-based political program. Today SEIU's political action fund is the largest in the nation and SEIU's "purple army" of more than 100,000 Member Political Activists helped make the union the premier grassroots organization in the country. In 2006 and 2008, the National Journal rated SEIU as the nation's largest and most effective political program.
SEIU's role in presidential politics was second to none in 2008, when every major Democratic candidate for president participated in SEIU's "Walk a Day in My Shoes" program by spending a half-day on the job with a member of the union, interviewing with members and providing a clear health reform proposal. SEIU's member-driven endorsement process led the union to make an early and critical endorsement Barack Obama, and SEIU was the largest contributor to President Obama's election efforts.
Stern has also played a vital role in rebuilding the nation's progressive infrastructure. Over the past several years, SEIU founded or was a major funder of major organizations that give workers a voice in Washington, DC, including:
- America Votes,
- American Rights at Work,
- Ballot Initiative Strategy Center,
- the Blue-Green Alliance,
- Center for American Progress,
- Partnership for Working Families,
- Unity '09, and
- Ya Es Hora.
National Healthcare Reform. In 2010, Stern's union played a pivotal role in seeing one of his lifelong dreams come to fruition: the historic passage of national healthcare reform.
As healthcare providers, SEIU members had long given voice to the need to reform our health insurance system and make quality care affordable for all. From dramatic public actions to the creation of a formidable set of "strange bedfellow" coalitions (Better Healthcare Together, Partnership for Quality Care, Divided We Fail and HCAN) to making sure every member of Congress knew exactly where working families stood, Stern and his team pulled out all the stops to earn him the top civilian slot on Modern Healthcare's ranking of who's who in healthcare reform and the moniker "one of the chief architects of healthcare reform."
Stern is an outspoken advocate on behalf of Americans who work, and his efforts to hold business, private equity, banks, politicians and Wall Street accountable have made him a favorite target of the Wall Street Journal editorial pages and Fox commentators (as have his frequent appearances on the White House guest list). He was named one of the 50 most powerful people in DC, and he has been profiled in a cover story of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, as well as 60 Minutes, Washingtonian Magazine, McKinsey Associate, Fortune, the Economist, Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers, Business Week, Modern Healthcare, Washington Post and Fox News, where last September he was Chris Wallace's "Power Player of the Week."
His book, A Country That Works, outlines a practical, cooperative approach to promote economic growth in America. Earlier this year, Stern was appointed by President Obama to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
He is the devoted father of a son, Matthew, and a daughter, Cassie, who passed away at the age of 13 in 2002.
Addressing the 2.2 million members of SEIU about his decision to retire, Stern said:
"There is a time to learn, a time to lead, and a time to leave.... There is never a 'perfect' time for any long-term leader to depart or for organizations to make transitions.
"I have been privileged and could not be more proud of the role I was permitted to play in helping make SEIU the pre-eminent voice and organization for people who work hard and take responsibility for their families. It's been an extraordinary run, and I leave my union on solid ground financially and with a deep bench of talent to that will advance SEIU's legacy of working for justice for all workers.
"It is an incredible gift to have the chance to see one's dreams realized. With the passage healthcare reform and all that it means for people who work, I know that it is a moment for change and the right time for a renewal within SEIU.
"This renewal will start with the election of new leadership, which will pave the way for a new generation to write the next chapter of SEIU and continue the journey to win justice for all.
"I remain deeply grateful to my union for giving me the opportunity and the honor of serving as its president."
With 2.2 million members in Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America. Focused on uniting workers in healthcare, public services and property services, SEIU members are winning better wages, healthcare and more secure jobs for our communities, while uniting their strength with their counterparts around the world to help ensure that workers -- not just corporations and CEOs -- benefit from today's global economy.