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SEIU chapters back alternative candidate to succeed Andy Stern

April 26, 2010 |  5:55 pm

At least two major California-based chapters of the giant Service Employees International Union have rejected the recommendation of outgoing President Andy Stern for his designated successor and are backing an alternate candidate, union insiders said Monday.

SEIU chapters representing some 150,000 healthcare workers statewide and 80,000 public-sector employees in Southern California have opted to support the candidacy of Mary Kay Henry, an SEIU executive vice president, say sources who declined to be named because the formal election is still pending.

However, the largest affiliate in California, the 180,000-member SEIU Long Term Care Workers, representing home care providers and nursing home workers, has yet to make a decision as deliberations continue, said Wyatt Closs, a spokesman.

Stern, who announced his retirement this month, has pushed for the candidacy of his long-time protege, Anna Burger, currently secretary-treasurer of the SEIU. But some SEIU chapters nationwide are balking at Stern’s hand-picked successor and lining up behind Henry, a long-time SEIU staffer who became the union’s top healthcare strategist.

Supporters describe Henry as a more conciliatory figure than Burger, whose leadership style is seen by critics as likely reflecting that of the often-pugnacious Stern.

“As president of SEIU, Mary Kay will unite our union—from top to bottom and across divisions,” four SEIU international executive vice presidents said in a letter this month to the union board.

But dissident healthcare unionists in California say Henry has never led a local union, has limited organizing experience and, like Burger, was a top SEIU official during several high-profile financial scandals.

While Henry is not as closely identified with Stern as Burger, she also has risen in the ranks to become a trusted aide under his leadership. How SEIU’s policies may shift under her prospective presidency remains unclear.

Backers of Burger say she has more national visibility and greater experience than Henry, who is comparatively little known outside of union ranks and doesn’t enjoy the high Washington profile of Burger.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell