Having waged a successful underdog campaign, Mary Kay Henry steps up to lead SEIU -- and mend some fences in the process.
When Mary Kay Henry graduated from Michigan State in 1979 with a degree in industrial labor relations, it took her the better part of a year to land a job with a union, chiefly because most unions in those days hired few if any women. During that time, she worked as a clerical employee in a hotel and as a night janitor. She hit bottom, she told me during an interview on Monday, when she took on a second job as a grill cook, and, in her sleep-deprived state, "fell asleep inside a freezer."
All of which, some might argue, was merely suitable preparation for a career inside the Service Employees International Union, a famously demanding employer. Hired as a researcher by SEIU, she built a reputation as a crack organizer who became the union's organizing director and then head of its health-care division during the presidency of Andy Stern. On Saturday, having waged a successful underdog campaign against Secretary Treasurer Anna Burger to succeed Stern, Henry was elected SEIU's new president.