The fight over the future of the AFL-CIO heats up:
Four dissident union presidents have demanded that their members’ names be removed from the AFL-CIO’s master list of 13 million households, attacking what many consider to be organized labor’s most important tool to influence political campaigns and legislative proceedings on Capitol Hill…The action by the presidents of the Service Employees International Union, Teamsters, Laborers and Unite Here is the most serious attack on Sweeney’s administration. The membership of the four unions exceeds 4 million, a third of the AFL-CIO total. John Wilhelm, who runs the hospitality industry division of Unite Here, is considering challenging Sweeney for the presidency of the federation when the AFL-CIO meets in Chicago in July. In addition, SEIU President Andrew Stern has threatened to pull out of the AFL-CIO unless major policy and program changes are made.
In sharply written letters, the presidents demanded that the names of their members be pulled. “Within 5 days of the date of this letter please provide to me a notarized letter stating that the file has been deleted in its entirety and all membership files of this union be deleted as well,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa wrote in a letter to Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO’s political director. All four unions wrote that they would be willing to provide the AFL-CIO with their membership lists “when appropriate” on a case-by-case basis after receiving a request. Officials of the unions said that each would be willing, for example, to turn lists over to help out in the coming New Jersey race for governor. The letters to the AFL-CIO did not spell out reasons for the requests to delete the names. In comments not for attribution, aides to the union presidents complained that the AFL-CIO has compiled detailed information on their members, from gun ownership to identifying single mothers, that has not been provided to the unions. In addition, they contended that the AFL-CIO has used its control of the lists to become the exclusive representative of labor to Democratic officials, preventing presentation of differing views.
And Andy Stern’s response to Sweeney’s proposal for the federation doesn’t leave much to the imagination:
…the fact is that the union movement has continued to decline to the point that only 1 in 12 private sector workers has a union. Yet the AFL-CIO officers’ proposal doesn’t contain the bold, dramatic steps it will take to start turning that around or a coordinated strategy for growing stronger based on the experience of the unions that have been helping workers organize. Sweeney, Trumka, and Chavez-Thompson correctly say that most of labor’s resources are in the individual unions and that if those unions were meeting standards for organizing and had real strategies, it would make a real difference in workers’ lives. But they do not support real standards, strategies, and accountability – or even apply standards to themselves, like the 30 percent for organizing to grow stronger that they preach to the affiliates. After years of discussion at meeting after meeting, and after six months of intense debate, their rehash of the status quo is too little, too late. Under their proposal, working people in America would still not have strong unions with the strategy, focus, and resources to unite everyone in an industry.
What is crystal clear is that even if unions representing a majority of members ultimately agree on a new strategy and structure that will help millions more workers unite with us, this AFL-CIO leadership team would not be the right group to carry it out. When this debate intensified after the 2004 elections, our union hoped that the AFL-CIO would lead the change and pull together a strong majority committed to growing stronger, not smaller. Instead, the AFL-CIO leadership has tried to build a slim majority for the status quo — a program built on the same approaches, structures, and priorities that have failed for decades. Now it is up to all those committed to new strength for working people to chart a course that could really win for working families.