SEIU's Andy Stern Is Leaving; The Question: Why, And Why Now?

By all accounts, it looks as if Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union and the most politically influential labor official in the country, is about to resign, with an official announcement expected soon — perhaps on Friday, when the union's executive committee meets in Washington.

The move comes after Stern and the SEIU, with its approximately 2 million members, played a pivotal role in congressional passage of health care legislation, which was President Obama's top priority.

There has been no official word why the 59-year old Stern is leaving, but there has been no shortage of speculation.

Much of it has been simply that it's been a stressful job, he's tired, and he's going out on top — after not only health care but the election of a Democratic president he worked to put into office, as well as Obama's recess appointment of the union's lawyer, Craig Becker, to the National Labor Relations Board last month. Politico quoted an SEIU official acknowledging the above and saying, "Health care getting done is a good culmination."

Not everyone is convinced, and some of the theories are, well, a bit off the wall. The HotAir blog can't decide between whether "there's a scandal brewing and that he simply jumped before he was pushed," or whether he's in line for the Supreme Court opening. Regardless, there have been controversies.

Stern took over the SEIU in 1996 after his mentor, John Sweeney, left to head up the AFL-CIO (Sweeney has since been succeeded by Richard Trumka). But in 2005 he ruffled some feathers by taking the SEIU out of the AFL-CIO and created, along with the Teamsters, a rival federation called Change to Win. Still, CTW became a potent political force, spending some $60 million on behalf of Obama and the Democrats in 2008 and changing the image of organized labor from that of a dinosaur to new-found activism. Stern himself became a frequent visitor — if not the most frequent — to the White House in the past year, according to visitor logs.

As prominent as Stern has been, he has had his share of battles with others in the labor movement. He had a well-publicized and ugly battle with the National Union of Healthcare Workers in California last year, accusing them of trying to "sabotage" the SEIU, a turf war that others in the labor movement say was ill-advised and which he should have — but did not — back down from. According to the Huffington Post's Sam Stein, "While Stern ultimately emerged victorious, it was not without cost: $10 million in legal expenditures resulted in a settlement for roughly $750,000. There was, naturally, criticism of the use of member dues for this venture." It apparently took up much of his time in the past year and may have left him exhausted. In addition, he was accused of giving away too much during the health care negotiations. He publicly announced he would fund independent candidacies against Democrats who were elected with SEIU funds and still voted against health care. And, despite a Democratic Congress, there is still no timetable for a vote on the Employee Free Choice Act (known as "card check"), a labor priority.

There is also the possibility that more unions that left the AFL with Stern may decide to return to the fold. Unite Here, in a battle with the SEIU over organizing in the hotel sector, rejoined the AFL. This in turn could give Trumka, the labor federation's president, even more clout, at Stern's expense.

Most mentioned as the likely successor is Anna Burger, the executive director of Change to Win, but SEIU Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry is also a contender.

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