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Mary Kay Henry Takes the Helm of SEIU

SEIU has a new President. The union’s executive committee elected health care organizer Mary Kay Henry as SEIU’s first female president today, after now President Emeritus Andy Stern announced his resignation several weeks ago.

We haven’t written about the SEIU succession here, but count me as someone who didn’t see this coming at first. It was widely assumed that SEIU Secretary Treasurer Anna Burger would naturally step into the presidency, having followed in Stern’s footsteps for most of her career within SEIU. But the union’s division and local leaders had other ideas. Mark Brenner of Labor Notes – whom I never have quoted approvingly, and will likely never will again, aptly summed up what many SEIU leaders thought of Burger:

“She has few of the benefits and most of the problems that Stern brings to the union,” said Mark Brenner, director of the non-profit union network Labor Notes.

Pretty much. And once it became clear that Burger wasn’t going to waltz into the presidency, Mary Kay Henry – being the deft organizer she is – saw an opening and put forth her own candidacy. And now she’s the leader of a union of 2.2 million workers.

Henry pledged to take SEIU back to its organizing roots, and away from the political and electoral direction in which Stern took the union. Henry says SEIU will stay involved in its 2010 election plans, which is an odd thing to say, frankly, and is a big sign that SEIU won’t be invested in the 2012 cycle.

As for reuniting with the AFL-CIO, Ben Smith reports that Henry says there are no talks of SEIU rejoining the federation from which it broke in 2004. While Henry wrote a letter to Change to Win saying SEIU remains committed to that federation, don’t expect that to last. I’d bet we’ll see SEIU coming back to the AFL-CIO by its 2013 convention.

In the mean time, Henry’s first day as president of SEIU included the video you see up top to the SEIU membership, and she is soliciting feedback from union members through the union’s website. Alec MacGillis at the Washington Post has an article worth reading about Henry’s election.

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Michael Whitney

Michael Whitney

My name is Michael Whitney. I'm a progressive online organizer working with FDL Action. Rush Limbaugh called me "clueless" once. He went into rehab two days later.