The Hill's 25 Women to Watch: Page 19 of 26

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INFLUENCERS

MARY KAY HENRY

PRESIDENT, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION

As president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Mary Kay Henry is in charge of one of the most politically aggressive unions in the country.

Henry is also the first woman to lead the SEIU. First elected in May 2010 by the union’s international executive board, Henry was the unexpected choice to succeed Andy Stern, who had been SEIU’s president for 14 years. Henry, 55, was reelected this year and has worked to maintain the union’s reputation as a political and organizing force. 

“Our union wants to revitalize the idea that the problem of income inequality can be resolved by workers joining together and negotiating for better wages,” Henry said. “That’s the No. 1 problem we want to address.”

The Detroit native has worked at SEIU for 33 years and was first elected to its executive board in 1996. She was considered key to getting President Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law passed.

SEIU will also be invaluable to Democratic candidates this fall. The union has undertaken an expansive get-out-the-vote operation, while Henry has served as a high-profile surrogate for President Obama — she spoke at the Democratic National Convention and has been in the spin room for Obama after some of the presidential debates.

“Reelecting Barack Obama is the single-minded focus of this union right now,” Henry said. “What motivates us right now is doubling down in battleground states, having our members volunteer and reach out to their friends and co-workers.”

Openly gay, Henry said SEIU is a diverse union.

“I think what the union allows is a deep respect for our differences and an understanding that we are all fighting for the same things: a fair economy and a just democracy,” she said.

— Kevin Bogardus 

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