Andy Stern, Darling of the Business Media,
Remains Unloved by Labor’s Rank-and-File

(The first of six articles.)

By Harry Kelber

No labor leader in U.S. history has ever received the superstar publicity that the business-controlled media has lavished on Andy Stern, president of the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union.

Fortune 500, the favored magazine of the tycoons of American industry, devoted six pages to Stern, including several full-color, flattering photos in various poses. The article by Rik Kirkland in the magazine’s Oct. 16. 2006 issue, says: “More broadly, you could argue that Stern is almost single-handedly reinvigorating the labor movement.”

Business Week, in a long article on Stern, plays to the effort to make him a cult personality by asking: “Can This Man Save Labor?” If Stern cannot lead the labor movement out of the wilderness into his promised land, what then?

The lineup of pro-business publications that eagerly gave Stern a forum to enhance his personality and promote his views includes The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Washington Post and a number of influential dailies around the country.

Here, in large black type, are the opening sentences of a 10-page cover story on Andy Stern that appeared in the Times' Magazine, early in 2005:

Andy Stern, who leads the largest and fastest-growing union in the country, is determined to save the American worker. And he is willing to tear apart the labor movement‹and perhaps the Democratic Party as well‹in order to do it.

There was almost no mention of Stern’s lack of popularity among union members. Hardly a word about his ill-fated New Unity Leadership group and the wide resentment evoked by his secret, corporate-styled restructuring proposals.

Stern appeared on CBS’s highly popular “60 Minutes” on May 14 in an interview seen by millions, where he said that unions must conform to the era of globalization by seeking partnerships with global corporations, a view challenged by Rose Ann de Moro, executive director of the independent California Nurses Association, the other labor guest on the program.

One of the main reasons why Big Business is extending an open-armed welcome to Stern is that he wants to relieve employers from paying for health-care and pensions in order to make them more competitive in the global marketplace. Stern’s proposed concessions would save them billions of dollars each year. And it would cost hundreds of thousands of workers a significant loss in their employer-paid health care and retirement benefits.

What do workers get in return for these enormous giveaways under the Stern partnership plan? Nothing, it seems. Corporations do not have to stop their aggressive campaign to intimidate their employees from joining a union. Their lobbies can continue to prevent passage of universal health care. They can step up the outsourcing of good-paying U.S. jobs. Their aim can still be to keep labor costs down and profits high.

Will the Stern plan enable unions to fight back more effectively‹or fight back at all?

Stern Has Few Friends Within the Labor Movement

Despite his growing reputation among CEOs in industry and finance, Stern, strangely enough, has hardly any following within the labor movement, except for loyalists in his own union. Significantly, he has not been able to entice even one of the AFL-CIO’s 53 international unions to join Change to Win, the rival federation he initiated.

He is heartily disliked by many labor leaders, who consider him egotistical, publicity-hungry, ambitious, and deceitful, although many are envious of his popularity and admit that he is smart and articulate.

The more thoughtful labor leaders are as concerned as Stern about the need for organized labor to change, but they think his restructuring ideas would weaken rather than strengthen the labor movement. Yet, they are reluctant to challenge him, nor have they come up with an alternative plan that is worthy of serious consideration.

The mention of Stern’s name evokes no enthusiasm among union members, not even in unions that are part of Change to Win. They scoff at the idea that he will single-handedly restore the middle class and achieve the “American Dream.” Many hold him responsible for the split in the labor movement. There are no Stern fan clubs, no pictures of him in union halls

Millions of workers have not heard about Stern, because they are not the targets of his publicity efforts. But for thousands of labor activists in many rank-and-file organizations, a major charge against Stern is his opposition to union democracy. He believes that too much debate within local unions often delays and impedes labor leaders from carrying out their strategic plans.

Stern, for example, sees nothing wrong in the fact that none of the members in Change to Win unions were given the right to vote on whether or not to secede from the AFL-CIO. He believes that decisions on important issues should be left to union officers.

Stern is caught in a paradox that is a source of puzzlement for unionists who have followed his recent behavior. His Partnership plan is clearly designed to make U.S. global corporations more competitive with the loyal assistance of workers and their unions. But what do workers get in return for their concessions? Stern has failed to answer that question.

Can Stern be a militant defender of the rights of working people, while he plays the role of lobbyist for Big Business? How does he propose to resolve his dilemma?

ARTICLE 2 of the six-part series, “The Enigma of Andy Stern,” will be posted here on Thursday, Nov. 16. Also check our Web site: