JONATHAN CHAIT APRIL 13, 2010
The labor movement is losing a great innovator (and a powerful, unsung underrated force behind health care reform.)
Brad Plumer memorably profiled Stern in 2008:
With our interview winding down, Andy Stern leaps out of his chair to show me something. On the far wall of his Washington, D.C., office, the leader of the 1.9-million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) keeps a little museum. "This stuff's great," he says, pointing to photos, memorabilia--and what he really wants me to see: the head of Gus Bevona.
As the leader of Local 32BJ in New York City during the 1980s and '90s, the 300-pound Bevona was the epitome of union sleaze. His salary of $400,000 per year made him one of the highest-paid labor officials in the country. Like many locals of old, 32BJ never had much interest in organizing new workers or advancing a broader cause. Bevona was content to maintain high salaries for his dwindling flock of janitors and doormen, while reportedly using union funds to build himself a posh lower-Manhattan penthouse. "So he puts this bust in his dedication to the building," Stern says, pointing to the brass head. "Kim Il Sung would've been proud. This building is dedicated to Gus Bevona, for his tireless efforts, blah, blah, blah." After Stern became president of SEIU in 1996, Gus had to go. So did all of the old guard. Unions had become too "male, pale, and stale," as Stern likes to put it. And organized labor was dying because of it.
Getting rid of Bevona was just the start. Over the past twelve years, Stern has pulled off a transformation of SEIU that is, by any metric, astounding.