Burger retires from SEIU, Change To Win posts

WASHINGTON (PAI)–Anna Burger, who as recently as a few months ago envisioned herself leading the Service Employees, retired on Aug. 11 from her job as its Secretary-Treasurer, the union’s #2 post. She also stepped down immediately as chair of the SEIU-led Change To Win union coalition.

“From my days as a rank and file activist to my service as an elected officer, I have had the amazing opportunity to watch hundreds of thousands of hardworking women and men learn, grow, build and lead though our union,” Burger said in SEIU’s release.

“I have spent 38 years being part of something bigger than I could have imagined. Thanks to the union, I got to see not only my dreams but the dreams of janitors, Head Start teachers, social workers, security officers, nurses’ aides and so many SEIU members come true.”

Burger stepped down from both posts only a few months after she planned to succeed Andrew Stern, who retired unexpectedly, as SEIU president. The union claims it has 2.2 million members and is known for its political effectiveness — an effectiveness which Stern credited to Burger — and for its rocky relations with the rest of labor
“It was no accident that SEIU emerged as the most politically effective advocacy organization in the country at the same time SEIU members built the nation’s largest PAC,” Stern said in the same release.

“But contrary to conventional wisdom, it wasn’t just money. Anna Burger recognized that at the heart of politics is people, and through her leadership and direction, hundreds of thousands of SEIU members became engaged in the union’s grassroots member action program that helped elect Barack Obama and strong pro-worker majorities in Congress. Her fingerprints can be seen all over SEIU’s successful programs to engage members, and her legacy will be carried on through the work of the tens of thousands of activists.”

That legacy didn’t help Burger when it came time to succeed Stern, who retired amid controversy over the union’s finances, its attempt to swallow another CTW union, Unite Here, and its long-running war with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, formerly SEIU’s biggest local, United Healthcare Workers-West. SEIU Vice President Mary Kay Henry entered the race, promising conciliation with other unions nationwide.

Burger’s campaign for the union presidency was hurt by withdrawal of support first from SEIU locals on the West Coast, and then from Dennis Rivera’s politically influential 1199 Hospital and Health Care Workers. The loss of support led Burger to withdraw from the race, yielding to Henry. Henry will hold both top SEIU jobs until the union’s board elects a new Secretary-Treasurer in September, spokesman Mark McCullough said.

And heads of the remaining five unions in Change To Win — SEIU, the Teamsters, the Farm Workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Laborers — “will meet in the next few days” to decide who will succeed Burger as their chair, McCullough said.

Burger, like Stern, will stay on a presidential commission. In his case, it’s Democratic President Barack Obama’s deficit-cutting panel. In her case, it’s the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. She also said she would “consult and work with SEIU” on economic issues important to workers.

“I have spent my life trying to make real change for working people, and I will never forget the lessons I have learned on the picket line, at the bargaining table, in rallies, on doors and in living rooms across this nation talking to workers who want a voice through a union: When working people stand united, workers win,” said Burger. “And when working people link arms with their allies in the progressive community, it transforms our country and we all win.”

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seiu/4881975651/sizes/o/in/photostream/



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.