Thomas Edsall reports on the struggle over the future of the AFL-CIO:
Although he has not announced his candidacy, John Wilhelm, president of the hospitality division of Unite Here (the recently merged needle trades and hotel workers unions), is widely viewed among union leaders as a likely challenger. Wilhelm declined to comment…The combination of a contest for power and growing pressure for major restructuring has split labor into two camps. Among the unions that appear likely to support Sweeney are the Steelworkers, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Communications Workers of America. But even some Sweeney loyalists have gone public with their criticism. Harold A. Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, recently wrote in a memo to the AFL that “for the last three election cycles at the national/federal level, the only measure that is truly relevant is that labor has come up short.” Schaitberger said the AFL “must also end its practice of relegating itself to being subservient to one political party or our political and legislative influence will continue to decline.”
In an interview, Sweeney said that he has enough votes to win: “I am confident I have very significant support from the affiliates.” Among those unions likely to back Wilhelm or another insurgent are Unite Here, the Service Employees International Union, the Laborers’ International Union, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers. Critics contend that because organized labor’s survival is in such danger, Sweeney’s cautious, consensus-building strategies have become a liability when tough leadership is needed.