Former Union President Andy Stern Says He Was Too Tough on Banks at SEIU

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published June 29, 2011, issue of July 08, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Andy Stern has had a change of heart.

Convert?: Former union president
Andy Stern is supporting
pro-business policies.
Getty Images
Convert?: Former union president Andy Stern is supporting pro-business policies.

Once the president of the most politically influential of America’s progressive labor organizations, and the most prominent Jewish leader in the labor movement, Stern now thinks he was too hard on private equity and banks.

Stern is also backing a proposed tax break for American companies keeping revenues abroad, a pro-business initiative that his former union calls a “tax giveaway” to corporations. The onetime president of the Service Employees International Union, Stern now sits on a corporate board and says that unions may be too close to the Democratic Party.

His recent public statements have provoked widespread comment in labor and political circles. But some observers say that Stern’s current views don’t represent much of a departure from his outlook while leading the SEIU.

“He has always moved to a tune apart from most of the labor world,” Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf wrote in an e-mail to the Forward. “Supporting what is really a tax holiday is consistent with his career-long unorthodoxy.”

Last September, Stern touted a plan on liberal commentator Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog by which corporations would be offered a lower tax rate for a limited period on cash earned overseas and brought into the country. Stern called for the resulting tax revenues to be used to fund federal infrastructure projects and create jobs.

Calls for the tax break have increased in recent weeks, following a June 15 panel on the plan at the Washington think tank Third Way, in which Stern participated.

Advocates for the plan say that temporarily lowering the repatriation tax rate to 5.25% from 35% could result in $1 trillion in American corporate cash returning to the United States, spurring growth and job creation.

Critics, including Stern’s former union, call the plan a gift to corporations. “After hauling in record profits last year, why should corporations get another tax giveaway?” asked Peter Colavito, director of government affairs at SEIU, in a statement.

A June 19 New York Times article reported that corporations used revenues repatriated during a similar tax holiday in 2005 largely to award shareholders rather than to create jobs.

Unlike some advocates of the tax holiday, Stern doesn’t recommend requiring corporations to use repatriated funds for job creation. But he does tie his support for the proposal to the creation of a so-called infrastructure bank, which would create jobs by funding infrastructure projects.

Stern has earned plaudits from business advocates for his support of the plan. In a September opinion editorial in The Wall Street Journal, “Andy Stern Sees the Light on Overseas Profits,” Loews CEO James S. Tisch, a former president of UJA-Federation of New York, wrote that Stern “gets it.”

And in a recent appearance on the business news network CNBC, one anchor proclaimed that he was moved near tears by Stern’s apparent ideological reappraisal.

“I’m all choked up,” Joe Kernen told Stern on June 16, on the morning business program “Squawk Box,” which he co-hosts. Stern chuckled, but Kernen continued, “Honestly, I’m so gratified at everything you said last night.” Kernen was referring to Stern’s appearance the previous evening on “The Kudlow Report,” also on CNBC, during which Larry Kudlow, the show’s host, said he was “delightfully surprised” to find Stern supporting the tax holiday.

Stern’s policy divergence from his former union appears to be matched with an overall rethinking of his time at SEIU.

“I was awfully tough on the private equity and the banks” while leading SEIU, Stern said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Judy Woodruff. “Some of it was totally appropriate; other of it probably was a little bit out of hand.”

In the same interview, Stern said he thought that the unions had grown too close to the Democratic Party. “I think the labor movement has gotten [to be] too much of an adjunct to the Democratic Party,” he said.

Stern was on vacation and unavailable to speak with the Forward. But longtime critics within the labor movement were skeptical of his avowed ideological shift.

“He had a progressively, from my perspective, anti-union ideology when he was president of SEIU, and now he’s unchecked totally,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. “He doesn’t have to be careful anymore.”

Rosselli, former president of SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, famously clashed with Stern in 2009, when his local was taken over by Stern’s international and Rosselli was expelled. The resulting battle split SEIU and drew media attention to growing rifts between Stern and his critics.

But Stern’s allies in the labor movement were supportive of what they saw as an attempt to build creative partnerships in tough times.

“What we need desperately are jobs,” said Bruce Raynor, former president of the garment union Workers United and a close ally of Stern. Raynor recently resigned from his position at Workers United following allegations that he had misreported some union expenses. “If there’s a way for this issue to play into creating a few hundred thousand jobs, that would be very meaningful. I don’t know if there is or not,” he said.

Raynor added that he doesn’t see Stern’s new positions as a significant departure. “SEIU under his leadership partnered with companies,” Raynor said.

Since leaving SEIU, Stern has taken a position as a senior research fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, affiliated with Georgetown University. He also serves on the corporate board of SIGA Technologies Inc., a biomedical defense firm controlled in large part by the private equity company owned by investor Ronald Perelman.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.