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Obama's curiously close labor friendship

SEIU chief Andy Stern enjoys unusual access to the White House, but some in the fractious labor movement question its value.

June 28, 2009|Peter Nicholas

"Whatever clout was gained doesn't matter if you can't deliver for your members. If I get invited to dinner at the White House or what have you, if I can't use that to deliver for my members, I haven't succeeded," said Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

The SEIU is mired in bitter fights with other union leaders -- feuds that carry the potential to scare off a White House that may not wish to offend Stern's rivals.

In California, the SEIU's national office ousted the leaders of the 140,000-member Oakland-based local. After they were dislodged, the leaders formed a rival labor group that is competing with the SEIU in organizing elections.

"It does sap the political legitimacy of someone like Stern when he finds himself embroiled in internal fights," said Nelson Lichtenstein, a UC Santa Barbara labor historian.

Stern counters that the SEIU's political loyalties are solid, reaching back to the 2004 Illinois Senate race, when Obama was a long shot but earned the union's endorsement.

"Our relationship was built in an earlier era," Stern said.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writer Paul Pringle in Los Angeles and Tom Hamburger in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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