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.
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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
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
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.