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Unions might be better off with Kerry loss, leader says

Breaking sharply with the enforced harmony of the Democratic National Convention, the president of the largest AFL-CIO union said yesterday that both organized labor and the Democratic Party might be better off in the long run if Senator John F. Kerry loses the presidential election.

Andrew Stern, head of the 1.6-million-member Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, said in an interview with The Washington Post that both the party and its longtime ally, the labor movement, are "in deep crisis," devoid of new ideas, and working with archaic structures.

Stern contended that another four years of Bush policies might be less damaging than the stifling of needed reform he said would occur if Kerry becomes president.

Stern's dissatisfaction with the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party is not new, but his decision to voice his frustration on the opening day of a carefully scripted convention was an unwelcome surprise to Kerry's convention managers, who had been proclaiming their delight at the absence of any internal conflicts.

Speaking of the effort to create new political and union organizations, Stern said, "I don't know if it would survive with a Democratic president," because Kerry, like Bill Clinton, would use the party for his own political benefit and labor leaders would become partners of the new establishment.

"It is a hollow party," Stern said.

Later in the day, John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, said Stern's attitude "is not justified." Sweeney said the process of change is already underway within labor. "I'm optimistic about the future of the Democratic Party," he said.

Stern made it clear that his assertions long preceded Kerry's nomination. He said that when Clinton was president, he demonstrated how little he cared for the Democratic Party. Calling the former president "the greatest fund-raiser of his time," Stern asked, "If you think the Democratic Party is valuable, why would you leave it bankrupt?"

Leaders of four unions interviewed by the Globe last night said that they disagreed with Stern and were puzzled by his reported remarks. "It's such an off-the-wall statement, I can't believe it," James P. Hoffa, Teamsters Union president, said.

Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said of Stern, "How could he say something that stupid?" Woerth pointed to what he called casual comments made by administration officials about the economic value of outsourcing jobs.

Globe staffer Brian Mooney contributed to this report.

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