By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; A03
Andrew L. Stern, the most politically influential and controversial union official in the country, is preparing to resign his position as president of the Service Employees International Union, a union official and a senior Democratic official said Monday.
Diane Sosne, the head of an SEIU chapter in Seattle, e-mailed her colleagues at midday Monday to alert them to Stern's imminent departure.
"Last night I received confirmation that Andy Stern is resigning as President of SEIU," she wrote. "He has not yet made a public announcement; we will share the details as we become aware of them." Sosne's e-mail was first reported by Politico late Monday; The Washington Post also obtained a copy of it.
Asked to comment Monday night on Sosne's remarks, SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette instead released a statement that Stern would address "increasing speculation regarding [his] intention to step down as president . . . in 2012" later this week, when the union's executive committee meets in Washington.
The Democratic official confirmed that Stern intends to step down from his presidency. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid irritating union officials.
Stern, 59, took the helm of SEIU in 1996, succeeding his mentor John Sweeney after he left to assume the presidency of the AFL-CIO federation. But in 2005, Stern sent shock waves through the labor movement when he took SEIU out of the AFL-CIO and created a rival federation with several other unions, including the Teamsters.
Stern argued at the time that the AFL-CIO had become too complacent and not aggressive enough about organizing new workers to stem its membership decline. Many supporters of organized labor responded by hailing Stern as a potential savior of the movement, and for several years SEIU posted membership gains as most private sector unions continued to shrink.
Meanwhile, his political sway grew in Washington, where the cerebral and media-savvy leader is often at the forefront of fighting for items high on his membership's agenda, such as health-care reform. Since President Obama's election, he has been among the most frequent visitors to the White House in the past year, and Obama named him to his new deficit commission.
But while Stern's stock has grown in some quarters, he and SEIU have come under increasing criticism, including from some of his former supporters.
The federation he created, Change to Win, has had limited success in charting a new course for labor, and some of its member unions have decided to return to the AFL-CIO.
SEIU's membership growth has slowed, and critics have noted that some of its biggest gains in recent years were less the result of shoe-leather organizing and more the result of deals with major employers or politicians -- including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The union has been enmeshed in several vicious internecine battles, including a hugely expensive clash during the past year with chapter leaders in Northern California. Stern has also been deeply involved with the nasty divorce of UNITE-HERE, the hotel and garment workers union.
Stern, along with the leaders of the AFL-CIO, has so far failed to fully capitalize on the Democratic takeover in Washington. The unions' top priority, legislation to make it easier to organize workers, is stalled, and unions conceded on several of their top priorities in the health-care debate.
Staff writer Philip Rucker contributed to this report.