Anna Burger, Andy Stern’s chosen successor, dropped her bid to succeed him as president of the Service Employees International Union, paving the way for the election of rival candidate Mary Kay Henry.
Burger, the No. 2 official in the nation’s fastest-growing labor union, was the favored candidate of Stern, who led the group for 14 years and cultivated close ties to President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. Burger announced her withdrawal in an e-mailed statement today.
“We women have a special knack for putting our egos aside and keeping our eye on the bigger picture,” Burger, 59, said in the statement sent to SEIU leaders. She pledged unity with Henry “despite honest differences over a leadership choice.”
Since Stern announced on April 14 that he was stepping down, four international vice presidents and heads of some of the union’s largest locals endorsed Henry, who made her name by organizing California nurses.
A leader of the union’s health-care division, Henry, 52, promised to heal rifts that grew as Stern became known for his access to politicians including Obama.
“Our local unions and divisions should drive our national priorities, not the other way around,” Henry wrote in a campaign memo to SEIU leaders. “Our national initiatives should be designed to put winds in the sails of our local and industry- based organizing strategies.”
Henry is an executive vice president of SEIU based in Washington. She grew up in the Detroit suburbs and has been an SEIU organizer since 1979. A founder of the union’s gay and lesbian caucus, she led organizing drives for health-care workers at Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Beverly Enterprises Inc.
May 8 Election
No other candidate has announced for the May 8 election to be decided by the union’s leadership.
Like Burger, Henry has ties to Stern. He made her director of organizing when he became president in 1996, and she was elected executive vice president on a slate with Stern in 2004 and 2008.
The SEIU spent $85 million to help elect Democrats to the White House and Congress in 2008. Henry pledged she would maintain the union’s political clout in campaigns for the November midterm elections even as she placed increased emphasis on grassroots organizing. “It was never an either-or situation,” Henry said in her memo to union leaders.
To contact the reporter on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.