Mary Kay Henry will lead SEIU's 2.2 million workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. She has defeated Anna Burger, the preferred successor of Andy Stern. Mary Kay is currently the leader of the one million member Health Care Division. She will be the first woman and the first openly Gay person to lead a major union.
She began working for the International under Andy Stern's predecessor John Sweeney (1980-1995). She was openly gay and primarily responsible for educating him about why Gay rights are an important Union issue. Mary Kay was one of the founding members of SEIU's LGBT Lavender Caucus. She is a strong advocate for developing LGBT leaders within locals and integrating our legislative issues into the overall political program of SEIU.
When she announced her candidacy she was immediately supported by four Executive Vice Presidents who issued a statement, "Mary Kay's greatest strength is her ability to build consensus and create a highly effective team." The New York Times reported that many local leaders were concerned that Anna Burger would take a top down approach similar to the leadership style of Andy Stern. Mary Kay had stated that she shared the view of many that local unions should drive the national priorities and not the other way around. Many characterize her candidacy as advocating the priority of organizing workers and wonder if there will be a change in the amount of resources going into the political program.
Once Mary Kay had the support of 60% of the locals Anna Burger withdrew saying she looked forward to working with Mary Kay. The actual vote is scheduled for May 8th.
I have no doubt that she will be a successful and progressive leader for our union. Like many others I look forward to more resources going into organizing workers and less into the pockets of Washington D.C. politicians. We also would like to see her use her skills to unite locals where division exists, resolve jurisdictional disputes with fairness and re unite SEIU with our brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO.
When I wrote and congratulated Mary Kay on her victory I said that I hoped she would "spend more time in the streets than in the swamp of the Democratic Party". That being said - when she has her first obligatory meeting with President Obama I hope there are two acronyms on her lips..- ENDA and EFCA!!!