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Andrew Stern, Head of SEIU, Plans to Step Down

by Steven Greenhouse

Andy Stern, president of the politically potent  Service Employees International Union, has told colleagues he plans to step down, two members of his union’s board said Monday.

Andy Stern, president of the politically potent Service Employees International Union, has told colleagues he plans to step down, two members of his union’s board said Monday. “It will be very soon,” said one board member, who insisted on anonymity.

Another board member said that Mr. Stern, who is 59, was thinking it was time to resign because Congress enacted one of his longtime goals, a health bill.

Mr. Stern has led the nation’s most politically active union, with 1.9 million members, since 1996. He is known as one of President Obama’s closest labor allies.

“Andy has always taken the position that people should not stay too long in office,” one board member said, “and it is his job to build the organization and then make room for other people.” Mr. Stern’s plans to resign were first reported by Politico.

S.E.I.U. leaders said they expected that Anna Burger, the secretary-treasurer, would succeed Mr. Stern.

Over the last year, Mr. Stern has been involved in fierce battles with two other unions, a large breakaway S.E.I.U. local in the San Francisco Bay area, and Unite Here, the union representing hotel and restaurant workers.

Mr. Stern has become a lighting rod within labor, ever since he led a half dozen unions to quit the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main labor federation, in 2005. His union, which represents hundreds of thousands of health-care workers and janitors, asserted that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. had grown stodgy and was doing far too little to unionize workers.

While some union backers praise Mr. Stern as an innovative leader who has made labor a more potent force in politics, others criticize him for being divisive and too quick to make concessions to companies and political leaders. He was also criticized for reaching secret agreements with some companies that he did not disclose to the rank and file.

As one index of his power and proximity to the president, official records show that he visited the White House more than 20 times during Mr. Obama’s first six months in office. Not only that, the White House political director, Patrick Gaspard, had been the political director of the S.E.I.U.’s giant health-care local in New York, and Craig Becker, a newly appointed member of the National Labor Relations Board, was associate general counsel to the union.

Mr. Stern is set to step down without having achieved one of his major goals, passage of The Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier to unionize workers.

In the past, Mr. Stern has talked of having a mandatory retirement age for union leaders and even having term limits for union leaders.

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