The son of a wealthy lawyer, Stern became radicalized as a student at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania (BA 1971). he became a social worker and joined the SEIU, then a much smaller union. A brilliant, tireless organizer, he moved up rapidly to president of his local and then to chief organizer nationally for the union. His boss was John Sweeney, who moved on to head the AFL-CIO in 2005 when Stern pulled the SEIU out of that group.
Taking over as president in 1996, Stern emphasized growth in numbers, often offering employers a "sweet deal" with low wages and no strikes if they allow the SEIU to sign up all employees. He doubled the size of the SEIU from one million to two million members, adding hundreds of thousands of janitors, nurses and office workers. In 2005, he took the SEIU out of the AFL-CIO, complaining it was too old-fashioned and factory-oriented, and was unable to adjust to the new economic realities of a service based economy.
Change to Win
In the last two decades a great deal of consolidation happened in the union movement. The garment workers union UNITE and HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union), merged in 2004 to create a new union UNITE HERE, with 450,000 members. Then UNITE HERE formed a coalition with the Teamsters, SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the Laborers, and the United Farm Workers (UFW) to form Change to Win. It sought to displace the well-established AFL-CIO. Stern became the spokesman for Change to Win and he challenged AFL-CIO president John Sweeney for national attention.
Although neutral in the primaries in 2008, he threw all of SEIU's energies and money into the Obama campaign.
UNITE HERE crisis
Recently Stern's SEIU has been raiding members from UNITE HERE, thus creating a deep division in the Change to Win coalition. In 2008 Bruce Raynor of UNITE, the co-president of UNITE HERE declare the UNITE HERE merger a failure, and tried to take UNITE (and its bank) into SEIU. The other co-president John Wilhelm of HERE protested loudly, and the internecine battle was on. Stern used SEIU's money and, with Raynor, created a new hotel-restaurant-casino union called 'Workers United" that is part of SEIU and is now openly trying to sign up HERE members. Raynor resigned from UNITE HERE, becoming president of Workers United and executive vice president of SEIU, working closely with Stern.
Card Check and health care
Meanwhile the turmoil has given conservatives in Congress another good reason to fight EFCA (a card-check device that would replace secret union elections), because it would be used in factional fights. Card check and socialized medicine are Stern's top priorities in Washington; he probably will lose on the card check proposal.
- Fink, Leon, and Brian Greenberg. Upheaval in the Quiet Zone: 1199/SEIU and the Politics of Healthcare Unionism (2nd ed. 2009)
- Stern, Andy. A Country That Works: Getting America Back on Track (2006), a primary source explaining his ideas excerpt and text search