Andy Stern

The New Republic has a great piece catching up with Andy Stern, the Prof and my favorite union boss. The reason we like Stern is that he seems to understand that unions are organizing against massive, multinational corporations, and to succeed, they will need to be massive and multinational themselves.

However, as the article makes clear, this strategy comes at the expense of local control and influence, and many local unions are grumbling about Stern’s often undemocratic heavy hand.

The other complaint lobbied against Stern is that he’s too eager to work with the corporations, instead of maintaining a strict us-versus-them attitude. For example, he made a deal here in Washington State with the health care industry: the union would help the industry lobby for legislative changes in Olympia, and, in exchange, the industry wouldn’t block his efforts to unionize their employees.

The first point is pretty hard to argue with. If the membership thinks your a tyrant, you’re going to get challenged and eventually bounced. Stern needs to work on being more responsive.

The second issue is trickier. Stern didn’t invent the idea of sleeping with the enemy. For example, the reason that fuel economy standards are stuck where they are is that the auto workers have allied with the auto makers for years to block stricter ones. Apparently the fact that Stern’s doing it in “secret” makes it more controversial. But the result is the same.

Also, you have consider the broader labor landscape. We have a Republican administration that’s incredibly hostile to unions’ efforts to organize. Maybe when a Democrat is returned to the White House, the National Labor Relations Board won’t be so rabidly anti-union. At that point, Stern won’t have to resort to cutting so many deals with the corporations. I just hope he makes it that long!