The SEIU: What Goes Around….

By August 4, 2005Labor Unions

Just a lingering observation from all the AFL-CIO shenanigans last week. We’ve mentioned this before, alluded to it few times, but it bears some attention as we close out this chapter.

Tom Donahue, former Secretary-Treasurer — and briefly, President — of the AFL-CIO, was an SEIU alum, out of mammoth local 32B in New York City. He was also one of the most decent guys to ever grace the labor movement or this city, now retired here in DC. He eventually ascended to the Secretary-Treasurer’s post and served as Lane Kirkland’s #2 for many, many years. His protégé was a fellow New Yorker named John Sweeney…

…They were not only mentor and protégé, they were the best of friends. Sweeney ascended to the Presidency of the SEIU and moved to Washington. He brought in a young go-getter named Andy Stern.

After a number of years, Gerry McEntee of AFSCME and a bunch of others started to agitate against Kirkland, saying he was inept and that labor was losing members because of his ineffectiveness and because he wasn’t spending enough money on organizing. (Stop us if any of this sounds familiar). They went to Kirkland to try to get him to step down, but he refused. They went to Donahue to coax him to run against Kirkland, but he refused out of loyalty. (Anybody remember loyalty….?) Sweeney — with McEntee’s backing and urging — threw his hat into the ring. A few weeks later, Kirkland stepped down and Donahue, Sweeney’s friend and mentor, ascended to the Presidency of the AFL-CIO.

So what’s a protégé to do once your mentor ascends? Had Sweeney backed out, the Presidency would have been Donahue’s, but incredibly Sweeney stayed in. He not only stayed in, but by himself and through his henchmen (including a guy named Bob Welsh who can’t be very happy these days, overseeing the disassembly of the AFL as Sweeney’s Chief of Staff), ran one of the nastiest, most personal campaigns — against his close friend and mentor. As they say, the measure of a man….

So now we fast forward 10 years, the same scenario plays out. Sweeney’s protégé organizes a quite different campaign against him, but deals him a body blow nonetheless. We almost wonder, is it something in the water over at the SEIU….?

Sometimes the ledger gets balanced in this world, sometimes it gets balanced in the next. For John Sweeney, the karma sowed so many years ago has come back to bite him. No one who knew or admired Tom Donahue is shedding a tear.