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Sweet column: Mayor Daley, meet SEIU president Andy Stern. SEIU flexing muscle in City Council elections.


Mayor Daley's name is missing from the list of big city mayors who Andy Stern knows.

And who is Andy Stern? The national president of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU is one of the most influential unions in the nation. It is the largest union in Illinois. The union is flexing its political muscle for the first time in Chicago City Council elections in a drive conceived by Tom Balanoff, the president of the SEIU Illinois State Council.

The SEIU is on track to spend $2.5 million in selected ward contests by the April 17 runoff elections. Some $1.25 million of that was for the February elections where the SEIU was heavily involved in 11 aldermanic races. Stern's Washington headquarters sent the SEIU Illinois Council PAC a $250,000 grant for the first round in the wards and a $750,000 loan on March 26 for the runoffs, where the union is a force in nine of the 12 aldermanic elections.

In the aldermanics, the SEIU is paying for direct mail, field work, phone banks, polling, media, opposition research and election day ground operations, with the chief strategy crafted by the Chicago political consulting firm of Adelstein Liston.

The "big-box" fight is just one piece of what triggered the SEIU to show off its political muscle in the aldermanics. Last year, Daley vetoed an ordinance raising the minimum wage and benefits at Wal-Mart type stores, and the mayor had the votes to prevent an over-ride. "The City Council was tilted heavily in favor of big business and the developers," said Jerry Morrison, the executive director of the SEIU state council. Looking at Daley's rubber stamp council, Morrison said the decision was made to add to the pro-labor ranks. "People want more checks and balances in government," Morrison said.

Stern is the pragmatic, forward-looking labor leader who is building the SEIU into one of the fastest growing unions in the country. The SEIU is taking a lead in making health care a top agenda item in the 2008 presidential elections, recently sponsoring a health issues forum attended by the leading Democratic White House contenders in Nevada.

Stern works from the bottom up as well as the top down. The SEIU, with 100,000 members in Chicago, is demonstrating that the fundamental political equation in the city is changing. Daley's organization -- such as it is nowadays -- has been weakened by scandal and the demise of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, which ran Daley's machine. Despite the federal City Hall probes, Daley, to his credit, is personally popular, sweeping all 50 wards in his February re-election.

When it comes to Chicago's City Council elections, Stern said a message to Daley is that he has to "deal with a new set of realities."

Stern is looking for partnerships with the city and the mayor -- on health care, education and, yes, the "big-box" problem, which the newly elected City Council is likely to take up again. Stern told me he is looking for "opportunities to have additional discussions" with Daley on big-box, not adversarial showdowns.

"With a new mix of aldermen, we'd start down a different road to work together," Stern said. "All of our leadership wants Chicago to be successful," Stern said. It's just that "the days of unilateralism in Chicago may be over." He called Daley "an incredibly strong, successful mayor."

The new reality for Daley is to realize the city will benefit from a bigger tent. There's some talk that some kind of cap should be placed on union money in aldermanic contests. Any cap, of course, should be across the board. "People don't like a [shift] in the balance of power," Stern said, "particularly people who benefited from a more controlled leadership structure. . . . This is what democracy looks like."

One reason the SEIU does well is that it is innovative -- and not afraid to step outside its own box.

Earlier this year, Stern joined with strange bedfellows -- Wal-Mart, Intel, Kelly Services -- and other unions and think tanks on the left and the right to launch a campaign to get more people affordable health care coverage. The enormous carrot to business -- and the incentive to work with the unions -- is to find a way to transition to a health insurance system that is not employer based.

Stern, like Daley, is practical and just want to gets things done.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa knows Stern. So does Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit, Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, Mayor Bill White of Houston and Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco. After the runoffs -- no matter the outcomes -- Daley and Stern, if they sat down, would find they share a goal of building a better Chicago

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Unions seem to forget that Unions are not for political campaigning, but to represent it's workers. The ACL-CIO split is a perfect example. Unions are slowly becoming a thing of the past as they continue to throw money at political candidates and focus less and less on their worker's needs. 1/3 of Union workers are republicans and for the last presidential election, only 49% of union workers voted for the candidate endorsed by their particular union!
If I'm looking for a job, what exactly does a union offer me that I can't do on my own? Unions today can't answer that question anymore. Why should I join if they are just going to throw my money at the next democratic candidate or whoever makes the best campaign promises?

SEIU is not any union I want to do business with. As a healthcare professional working at a hospital targeted by SEIU, I can tell you first hand they play dirty. I am very pro-union, I have many family members who are union, but SEIU is the devil in disguise. Their tactics benefit only themselves. They send people to our houses, stating they were sent by our employer, but cannot say who they got our addresses from. I was sued by a hospital over an unpaid bill. Long story, but the end result was I didn't pay and got sued. They used my name in a mailing without ever contacting me for permission. I realize this is public info, but I didn't want it sent out in mass mailings!! Who benefitted from this? Not me, that's for sure. Just SEIU.

Be careful who you endorse.

NIP IT IN THE BUD!! The romance between Wal-Mart and the unions should be cut immediately unless Wal-Mart gives full disclosure on its surveillance of journalists, employees, critics, stockholders, and others....unless the SEIU does the same.

Why don't unions use all that money to recruit and train workers for high paying union jobs?

SEIU is HDO on a bigger scale. Any candidate that receives money from them will be beholding to them.
They are not about workers welfare, they are about their own welfare. Cheap labor, big talk and little action for the workers. l

SEIU is the second largest tax-payer salaried 'union' in the country with more than 850,000 public service employees.

SEIU does not operate to improve the lives of its membership but to engage in political monster apparitions and threaten elected candidates to 'go along' with them.

SEIU engages in radical redistrubution of wealth strategies that force and increase in government salaries and thus create a greater burden on the middle class - especially real labor unions: the skilled trades unions.

SEIU swells like a tick with its membership drives targeting no-skill, low skill, and tax-paid employees. Membership dues are or were the life's blood of a strong labor force in America. SEIU fights to push for minimum wage increases - but a significant sum of that wage increase will come from taxpayers. SEIU is a great threat to the American Labor Movement that created the American Standard of Living - a middle class standard of living.

SEIU's redistribution of wealth will not chip away at America's rich but it will evaporate the American middle class and that , it seems is it goal.

Mayor Daley you do not need friends like Andy Stern; neither did Denny Gannon or John Sweeney nor the hundreds of thousands of immigrants, working poor, and unskilled minimum wage earners who wear those Purple T-shirts.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 5, 2007 7:47 AM.

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