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SEIU’s Henry Pledges Close Ties With White House

Mary Kay Henry, the new president of Service Employees International Union, said on Saturday that she will continue outgoing SEIU head Andrew Stern’s close relationship with the White House between now and the next presidential election.

“We want to redouble our efforts from ’08,” Henry said on Saturday following her election. “We are deeply committed to backing this president and to pushing the president, [and] we want to make sure that we are a part of his re-elect in 2012.”

An early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign, Stern was organized labor’s point person with the administration during legislative battles over health care reform and a “card check” bill, the now-dormant proposal that would make it easier for workers to unionize. According to White House visitor logs, Stern met with administration officials dozens of times since the 44th president took office in 2009, likely outpacing all others in passing through the threshold at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Henry said on Saturday that she and Stern agreed that she would not meet with the White House until she was formally elected this weekend.

“We are trying to set something up,” she said. White House records show that “Mary K Henry” last visited the “VPOTUS” in late January.

A registered lobbyist for the SEIU until 2007, Henry has specialized in negotiating labor deals with hospital systems, including Beverly Enterprises, Catholic Healthcare West, Tenet and HCA. According to her official biography, she is a Michigan State University alumna and helped start the union’s gay and lesbian Lavender Caucus.

Henry is also the union’s first female president, undoubtedly picked by the union’s board on Saturday as an antidote to more than a decade of Stern’s rigid top-down rule. While vaulting the SEIU to prominence by breaking away from the AFL-CIO, Stern often clashed with local affiliates, a friction that Henry apparently capitalized on in recent weeks.

Henry’s direct pitch to SEIU’s rank and file also stopped cold the candidacy of Stern’s handpicked successor, Anna Burger, who mysteriously dropped out of the race to replace her mentor two weeks ago. In SEIU’s official announcement of Henry’s victory, Stern offered a statement. Burger did not.

“From her earliest days organizing workers to her partnership in growing the strength of SEIU, Mary Kay’s leadership has always been marked by her singular ability to connect with each and every person she meets to bring out their best,” Stern said. “She will be an incredible president of our union, as well as an important and impassioned voice for working people.”

Although rumors of her retirement persist, Burger will continue to be SEIU’s secretary-treasurer, as well as chairwoman of Change to Win, a breakaway coalition that left the AFL-CIO five years ago. The federation includes the SEIU, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North America, United Farm Workers of America and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

It’s unclear what Henry’s win means for a potential reunification with the AFL-CIO. In Saturday’s conference call, Henry reiterated a pledge she made to the SEIU and other Change to Win unions in the waning days of her candidacy.

“SEIU has had no discussion about returning to the AFL-CIO,” Henry wrote on May 6. “SEIU remains strongly committed to our Change to Win partners and we look forward to strengthening those relationships in the weeks and months to come.”

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