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Latest News - April 2010

April 26, 2010
Grass-Roots Choice Leads Rae for Top Union Post
Source: New York Times
Author: Steven Greenhouse



Mary Kay Henry, a dark-horse candidate who is a leader of the health care division of the Service Employees International Union, has locked up the votes to succeed Andy Stern as the union president, several top union officials said Monday.

These officials said Ms. Henry, 52, an executive vice president, has the support of locals representing nearly 60 percent of the union’s 1.9 million members, giving her the likely edge over Anna Burger, the union’s secretary-treasurer, in an executive board vote expected to be held next month.
When Mr. Stern announced two weeks ago that he planned to resign, Ms. Burger, his longtime No. 2, was seen as the likely successor to lead the nation’s most politically powerful union. But many S.E.I.U. leaders and their locals rallied behind Ms. Henry.

People were looking for someone fresh and new, a consensus candidate to lead the union, said a top official in a major local, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the union has asked members not to comment publicly about the race.

Several service employee union officials said many leaders and members preferred Ms. Henry because Ms. Burger was viewed as too close to Mr. Stern, generating fears that she would take a top-down approach like the one many say he has taken. Mr. Stern has endorsed Ms. Burger.

Shortly after Mr. Stern announced his plans, four executive vice presidents sent an e-mail message that developed huge momentum for Ms. Henry. It said: “Mary Kay’s greatest strength is her ability to build consensus and create a highly effective team around shared goals and responsibilities. Mary Kay is the type of leader who motivates rather than demands.”

Even though many leaders among service employees sent internal memorandums on Monday saying it was time to rally together now that Ms. Henry appeared triumphant, Mr. Stern sent an internal e-mail message saying the race was not settled. “Not a single vote has been cast,” he wrote.

Some union leaders had characterized the race as between a candidate who would focus on organizing — Ms. Henry — and one who would focus on keeping S.E.I.U. as the nation’s most politically vigorous union — Ms. Burger. But Mr. Stern wrote, “Both candidates are determined to advance a strong political voice.”

Ms. Henry grew up in suburban Detroit and graduated from Michigan State University. She became an organizer for the S.E.I.U. in 1979 and has played a major role in some of its biggest organizing drives, at Beverly Enterprises, Catholic Health Care West, Tenet and HCA. She is a founding member of the union’s gay and lesbian caucus.

Soon after Mr. Stern became the union’s president in 1996, he named her one of the two organizing directors.

Mr. Stern has often turned to her for help with important legislative fights, including one to expand Medicaid for children, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Ms. Henry has often voiced concern that while the union has tripled its financial resources, it has not tripled its organizing gains. The health care division she helps lead has a million members.

Several officials said Ms. Henry won strong backing because she often got down in the trenches with newly hired organizers and was quick with a supportive word.




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