President Barack Obama has appointed Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern to a new commission tasked with coming up with recommendations to help reduce the federal deficit. While disappointing, this is not surprising. Stern’s appointment is merely the culmination of a series of appointments by the Obama administration of individuals closely associated with SEIU to government posts.
These include Patrick Gaspard, a former vice president for politics and legislation for SEIU Local 1199, a giant New York health care workers union, who was named White House political director following Obama’s election, and SEIU Treasurer Anna Burger, who was named to Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Then there’s former SEIU associate general counsel Craig Becker, whose nomination to the National Labor Relations Board failed in a Senate cloture vote.
Stern himself, according to White House visitor logs released in November, visited the White House at least 22 times in 2009, making him the most frequent visitor during that time (the Alliance for Worker Freedom has filed a request for an investigation of Stern for possible lobbying disclosure violations, including during those visits).
This access hasn’t come easy. SEIU has invested heavily in politics. In 2008, it was the seventh biggest campaign donor, with nearly all of its contributions going to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Stern told The Las Vegas Sun in May 2009: “We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama—$60.7 million to be exact—and we’re proud of it.”
Coziness between the administration and a special interest aside, asking the head of a union that organizes public-sector workers presents a clear conflict of interest, especially now that union members in the public sector outnumber their private-sector counterparts for the first time ever. Would Stern be willing to reduce growth of the sector where his union is most likely to find new members? More likely are calls for higher taxes to fund more “public services” for SEIU to unionize. That also shouldn’t be surprising. Today, government employee unions constitute a permanent special interest lobby favoring the growth of government, one that is motivated, organized and well-funded.
Ivan G. Osorio is editorial director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. His writings focus on labor issues and the new economy.