Called “the most powerful women in the labor movement” by Fortune magazine and nicknamed the “Queen of Labor,” Anna Burger is dedicated to building the progressive movement in the United States and has helped to shape the progressivism of the New Labor movement.
The daughter of a teamster truck driver and a nurse, Burger grew up in Levittown, Pennsylvania. In 1972 she began her career as a Pennsylvania caseworker and union activist in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668. That year, she led a wildcat strike of Philadelphia social workers and was eventually elected as Local 668's first female president. Her leadership abilities led her to oversee SEIU’s statewide political program and later to become the union's national field director.
Joining an SEIU-led insurrection against one of her mentors, John Sweeney, and the AFL-CIO in 2005, Burger helped create the new union federation Change to Win (CTW), which sought to revive the strength of unions by doing more to organize women and minorities. SEIU President Andrew Stern appointed Burger as the first Chair of CTW. She continues to serve as the International Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU, one of CTW’s union member organizations.
One of Burger's chief goals has been to develop the relationship between big labor and political advocacy. She has been a member of the Democratic National Committee since 1984 and has proudly used her union influence to support progressive Democrats. With the financial power of SEIU and CTW behind her, Burger has been able to direct tens of millions of dollars toward Democratic candidates and radical organizations like ACORN. With SEIU in 2004, she spearheaded the largest mobilization by any single organization in the history of U.S. politics, and was instrumental in the grassroots campaign that led Democrats to recapture both Houses of Congress in 2006. Under her direction, the SEIU alone spent $187,500,000 on candidates and policy issues between 2000 and 2008 – nearly 100 percent of which went to Democrats and to liberal policy initiatives. In 2008, the SEIU gave $30 million to the Barack Obama presidential campaign.
Burger was also a super-delegate representing Pennsylvania in the 2008 elections. During the Democratic National Convention that year, she addressed the nation and championed Obama for President. She continued to lead the union charge to fund, and campaign for, Obama’s presidential run. In February 2009, President Obama appointed Burger, along with other union leaders, to his Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
Burger has also been powerfully positioned in a number of leftist organizations:
In 2009, Burger’s political activities became associated with a number of high-profile controversies and investigations. Burger’s close association with the Obama administration came under scrutiny vis a vis the scandals involving Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. It was alleged that Blagojevich had planned to trade President Obama's vacated Senate seat in exchange for a high-paying job as head of CTW, where he would have replaced Burger as chair of that organization.
Burger’s ties to ACORN have also come under investigation by government officials. On September 30, 2009, in a hearing conducted by the House Financial Services Committee, Representative Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina) questioned Burger about her funding relationship with the scandal-plagued community organization ACORN. She told the Committee that the SEIU had “cut all ties to ACORN.” Subsequently, Burger provided financial information to the Committee indicating that the SEIU had given $190,000 to ACORN in 2008 for “Contributions (including General Support and ACORN Projects like Voter Registration),” and $25,000 in 2009. The SEIU also had paid ACORN $1.4 million in 2008 for “Contracted Services (including services such as the Organizing Apprenticeship Program and Childcare Worker Organizing Campaigns),” and $220,000 in 2009.
On December 3, 2009, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and the Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) filed for a formal investigation into Burger’s lobbying practices. The groups alleged that Burger and her union compatriot, Andrew Stern, had not been registered lobbyists since 2007. According to both groups, after delisting, Burger spent even more of her time -- up to 35 percent -- on lobbying activities. Consequently, Burger's (and Stern’s) continuing efforts for, and funding of) the Democratic Party generally (and Barack Obama in particular) were illegal. In January 2010, the office of Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson announced that it was closing the investigation and was not recommending that the U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips pursue the matter. No reasons were given, and no rebuttal of the allegations was offered.
Burger has also been a passionate proponent of a number of progressive advocacy issues. She was instrumental in getting the SEUI to recognize abortion as an essential part of women’s health. She was a longtime champion of the public option for health care reform, urging Democrats in September 2009 to do the bidding of the American people and not to let “Republicans and their insurance industry puppet masters control [the] debate.” She is also an advocate for immigration reform, partnering with pro-amnesty immigration groups to influence the 2010 census and to organize the March for America.