Stern, a force in the labor movement

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Many nursing home owners may be bidding good riddance to outgoing labor leader Andy Stern. While they may not have liked what he stood for, it's hard not to respect what he achieved.

The powerful president of the Service Employees International Union, who this week disclosed he is retiring, singlehandedly was responsible for shaking up the labor movement. He also created a powerful union for healthcare employees, including thousands in nursing homes. 

Not exactly child's play. 

Of course, there was good reason for the industry to mistrust him. He ruffled many a company owner's feathers with aggressive unionizing tactics. He also didn't exactly engender good feelings with his agenda pushing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to form.

And it's worth noting that he wasn't a friend of everyone in the labor movement either. He announced his retirement as a federal jury in California issued a ruling forcing a rival of the SEIU, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), and 16 former officials to pay the SEIU $1.5 million in damages. (The SEIU sued for $25 million.)

So not everyone loves him. But I don't think that was his aim.

His goal was to create a new union for the 21st century. In 2005, he led an exodus of seven unions away from the AFL-CIO. He believed the AFL-CIO was an entrenched and outdated organization that was losing members. 

Stern's plan was to increase membership in fields such as healthcare. He targeted those workers who were not unionized, such as public service workers, janitors and, yes, long-term care employees.

And while many nursing home owners bristled at his approach to unionizing, the Ivy-League educated Stern also created some successful partnerships. Many long-term care facilities in New York City, for example, have enjoyed a good relationship with SEIU 1199 UHWE.

Arguably, Stern played a role in improving the lives of workers overall—both those affiliated and not affiliated with the SEIU. After all, one of the best ways for companies to keep unions away is to give employees a reason not to join, right?

Still, I doubt most nursing home owners are shedding many tears right now over the departure of Andy Stern. Then again, I don't think he is too concerned about it. There is some truth to that oft-used line in the movies: Sometimes it's better to be feared than loved.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.