Andy Stern: The New Boss

<b>Lesley Stahl</b> Profiles The Powerful Union Leader

Not long ago in America, organized labor ruled the roost. In the 1950s, one in three Americans had a union job and bosses like Jimmy Hoffa were household names. But today labor is losing clout fast — about one in 10 Americans is in a union.

Correspondent Lesley Stahl profiles Andy Stern, a man who says he's going to bring labor back to life and pull millions of Americans out of poverty along the way. Stern is president of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, the second largest in the country.

For his talent at recruiting new members, Stern has been described as the most important labor boss in America. As you'll see, Andy Stern is a new breed of union boss.



When you first see Andy Stern, pay attention to his wardrobe — dressed in purple, it's his way of branding SEIU.

He's as far from a blue-collar tough-guy chomping on a cigar as you can get. At 55, he's smallish, in good shape and Ivy-league educated.

He shows up to walk picket lines, even small ones. Jimmy Hoffa didn't do that. No organizing job is too mundane, including handing out flyers and making calls.

Stern has built SEIU into the fastest-growing union in the country, with its cult of purple. But while it has been thriving, much of labor has been shrinking.

Asked why the 90 percent of Americans not in a union should care, Stern says: "When unions were strong, they raised everyone up. Look at what's happening in America. The gap between the rich and the rest of the population is growing so wide and so fast that even Alan Greenspan says it threatens democratic capitalism."

"So, you think if more people join unions, that gap would necessarily have to turn around and start shrinking? Is that what you're saying?" Stahl asks.

"I think unions are the best anti-poverty program that America's ever had," he replies.

And that seems to be Stern's central motivation: lifting the very lowest-paid service workers into the middle class. So the face of his union isn't a burly auto-worker, it's people like Maria Velazquez, who runs a daycare center out of her living room in Chicago.

Velazquez says she is taking care of 16 children, all of whom come from low income families.

SEIU membership is mostly Spanish-speaking, female, minority and immigrant. What's amazing here in Illinois is that by going door to door, SEIU was able to organize 49,000 other women like Maria who run day care centers.

After 10 years of recruiting and lobbying, Illinois agreed to a union contract, giving the women a 35 percent raise and health care during the next three years.

"I think I'm going to win the Nobel Prize because I think I can finally prove that Ronald Reagan is wrong, George Bush is wrong. Wealth does not trickle down, it trickles up," Stern said at a rally.

  • Daniel Schorn

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