Labor Movement Topics With Workplace Activist, Andy Stern

Stern discusses roles of social media, resources
Tuesday, November 4, 2014

One of America's best-known workplace activists covered a span of labor movement topics when he met with students and faculty during a Worker Institute-sponsored discussion Oct. 23.

Financial resources are a crucial part of how much influence unions can wield, said Andy Stern, president emeritus of the Service Employees International Union and now a senior fellow at Columbia University's Richman Center for Business, Law, and Public Policy.

Stern said he doesn't believe that "the issue is technique … many groups have very creative tactics and abilities, but they don’t have resources."

"It's like being a venture capitalist. You only have to hit a couple of measures to be successful, but resources are crucial to being able to 'make mistakes,'" he said.

When asked about social media's influence on activism, Stern said, "Reach is really important … A lot of what we used on the ground was to get something in the media to get a bigger impact. A lot of it was staged, not for the size of the rally, but for distribution."

Stern, who said he was attracted to a union meeting as a young employee by free pizza, eventually led the Service Employees International Union as it organized thousands of janitors and home care workers, and became the fastest-growing union in the United States.