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January 03, 2003 - Image 73

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-01-03

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Michigan Presence

A large
of SIS & SLS

With 35,000 members in Michigan, the SEIU represents a wide range of
employees, from nursing home workers to city of Detroit forensic scientists.
The union's Michigan strength is found mainly in the areas of health care
and public employees, although the Detroit local does represent some 3,500
janitorial -workers.
SEIU in Michigan has contracts with 40 hospitals and 450 nursing -
homes, including Menorah House in Southfield, said Laura Johnstone,
spokesperson and field representative. There are about 7,000 Michigan
nursing home workers covered under SEIU negotiated contracts, she said.
Several campaigns conducted by SEIU on behalf of area janitors have .
received media coverage. The . 1995 Dignity campaign focused on nursing
homes, while the union's recent battle at the Edward H. McNamara World
GatewaY Terminal at Wayne County/Detroit Metropolitan Airport success-
frilly blocked an attempt to switch janitors to minimum wages.
There aren't many Jews in the local SEIU. The highest ranking is Debbie
Schneider, the Chicago-based assistant executive vice president of the
union's central region, which includes Michigan.
Local 79, with 17,000 members, is the largest in Michigan. There are
three locals in Detroit as well as one in Lansing with 9,000 members —
mainly state employees, said Johnstone.


— Alan Abrams, special writer

of his religious roots and the traditions
that inspire him, Stern does not come
across as a particularly religious man,
at least not in the conventional sense.
Stern — who resides in Washington
with his wife and theirl6-year-old son
Matthew — does not belong to any of
the area's synagogues.
On rare occasions — High Holy
Days, for example — he'll pop into
one of the local temples, but Stern
feels more at home attending services
at the Washington Ethical Society, a
religious community comprised of
Christians, Jews, atheists and agnos-
tics. The society has no formal creed
or dogma, but focuses on finding
morality and spirituality through
human relationships.

Staying Private

If one thing becomes clear in talking
to Stern, it is that he is a deeply per-
sonal man.
, When asked about how he spends
his weekends, he says little more than
he enjoys spending time with his son
and family.
His wife, A. Jane Perkins, is a politi-
cal powerhouse in her own right, a
Democratic mover and shaker who
once served as a city councilwoman in
Harrisburg, Pa., and was later presi-
dent of Friends of the Earth. More
recently, she has worked on environ-
mental issues at the AFL-CIO.
Understandably, Stern makes no
mention of the tragedy that affected
the family this summer — the sud-
den death of 13-year-old daughter

Cassity, who painted pottery, made
jewelry and adored her two cats.
An- honor student at her middle
school, "Cassie" Stern died in May
from respiratory complications fol-
lowing spinal surgery. She suffered
from scoliosis.
Stern does not touch upon his per-
sonal tragedy. He does not feel sorry
for himself — at least not in public.
He is clearly more comfortable talk-
ing shop.
He doesn't blink when asked
whether the SEIU is turning away
from its longtime friends, the
Democrats, and sharing its political
contributions with Republicans like
Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
"Hagel has been very good on the
issue of immigration," Stern says
He also heaps praise on conserva-
tives like Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-
N.C., for spearheading the effort in
the 106th Congress to protect the
healthcare workers he represents from
needle-related injuries.
Is Stern trying to send a message?
You bet he is.
"For too long, the labor movement
was a lapdog of the Democratic Party
and not a watchdog for our members'
interests, so we have adopted an inde-
pendent, issue-based political pro-
gram based on what our members tell
us to support," Stern says.
In a town where connections are
everything, Stern puts it even more
bluntly: "We have permanent issues,
but no permanent friends." ❑

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