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Sweeney-Stern Dispute Has Roots in Friendship

A contrast in styles: the SEIU's Andy Stern, left, and John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO.
SEIU/Frank Langfitt, NPR
A contrast in styles: the SEIU's Andy Stern, left, and John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO.

AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney and the SEIU's Andy Stern first met in the 1970s, when Stern was president of a social workers' local in Pennsylvania. But what began as a mentoring relationship has taken a turn, with Stern calling for Sweeney's resignation.

It was Sweeney who brought Stern to the Service Employees International Union in Washington, where Stern made his name as an innovative head of organizing. But earlier this year -- in a move that has been the talk of the labor movement -- Stern called on his former mentor to retire.

Stern, 54, says the time has come for change at the AFL-CIO, citing dropping membership and a need for new leadership. Sweeney, 71, responds that the large labor movement relies on consensus, and patience, to work.

Sweeney will stand for another four-year term at next week's convention in Chicago. He is expected to win easily. But Stern may not even be there. He and other dissident union leaders are thinking about boycotting the meeting.

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