SOLIDARITY CHARTERS

Two weeks ago, John Sweeney made a partial concession to local organizers’ and officials’ widespread resistance to his bid to bar those Change to Win unions which have left the AFL-CIO from participating in any state and county labor groups it supports. Under Sweeney’s proposal, SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW, and Carpenters locals could seek “Solidarity Charters” to participate in the local groups on a few conditions. The first, at least in theory (I’m not in a position to crunch the numbers) seems fair: Given that these locals’ dues to their international unions are no longer contributing to the funds the AFL-CIO contributes to support local alliances, locals which participate in such groups under these charters should pay extra dues to offset the AFL-CIO’s contribution. Other stipulations, though, are more problematic: Members of Change to Win unions currently in leadership roles in local groups would have to publically disavow their own unions’ decision to leave the AFL-CIO in order to keep their jobs. No member of one of these unions, no matter what they said, would be eligible for election to leadership in a local group in the future. And, more ambiguously, Change to Win unions participating in these groups would be “bound by whatever actions or decisions of the [AFL-CIO] that are binding on all affiliated local unions” – whatever those may be. What Sweeney’s offering now isn’t a dignified partnership – it’s a subordinate relationship which isn’t justified by the check the AFL-CIO sends groups like the LA County Federation of Labor and doesn’t speak to the facts on the ground those groups are facing.

The Change to Win unions’ response, shown in this letter from Andy Stern to SEIU locals, has been a rejection of each of the stipulations, including the extra fees (which Stern unfairly calls “discriminatory”). Meanwhile, a group of state and local labor leaders have written to Sweeney praising his “good faith” effort to find a way to work together while voicing sympathy for unspecified “objections” to its specifics.

It remains to be seen whether a compromise, or at least a counter-offer, will emerge. If not, we may see unions and community allies shifting resources out of these state and local groups and into new ones which could set their relationships to the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition on new terms. Lest we forget the stakes, this week’s strike at Northwest is a telling demonstration, as Jonathan Tasini argues, both of why labor needs the kind of reform Change to Win is fighting for and of the potential costs if the movement fails to maintain solidarity in the wake of the split.

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2 thoughts on “SOLIDARITY CHARTERS

  1. Josh –

    I’m not persuaded that the extra fees are actually fair, and I’m not sure Stern is wrong to identify them as discriminatory.

    Not taking issue with your overall analysis, which seems correct.

    But locals already pay per capita fees to CLCs as a condition of membership — and Stern has instructed CtW locals to continue to do so.

    And I can’t think of a reason to add an extra fee and reduce the rights of non-affiliates except to discourage them from participating in local/state CLCs, and to discourage other nat’l unions from disaffiliating.

    One reason might be that it somehow harms CLCs to have members mooching off CLC services without kicking money up to the AFL-CIO in addition to the per capita dues they pay the CLC. But seriously: having more CLC members paying per capita dues, whether AFL-CIO affiliates or not, is good for CLCs — and does not constitute a threat to their welfare. Especially if the non-affiliates are unions with high membership.

    If the AFL-CIO doesn’t want to pay CLC staff for their time on a CtW picket line, for instance, then fine (I mean, obviously that’s not fine, but fine). But the purpose of these solidarity charters is to allow local CLCs & their members to continue working together.

    Either Sweeney is sincere in saying that local unions should not have to suffer for the decisions of their leadership or he isn’t. He claims that the solidarity charters allow participation, but the fees tell a different story. They say to one member of a coalition that, because of decisions made above, your strike support will costs 10% more.

    In that sense, the fees may not be discriminatory, but they certainly (to me) represent an act of retaliation — and an insincere one at that.

  2. Alek –

    The reason I’d be theoretically comfortable with some kind of extra fee is that locals of AFL-CIO-affiliated unions are paying for the work of CLCs directly through dues to them and also indirectly through their dues to the international, which go in part to the AFL-CIO budget, which goes in part to funding CLCs. So it doesn’t seem discriminatory to me – in theory – to ask non-affiliated locals to pay a little more directly to make up for what they’re not paying indirectly. And given that the Change to Win critique in part has been that the AFL isn’t spending Change to Win union members’ money in a way that builds the movement effectively, it seems like if the Change to Win folks see CLCs as indeed being a good investment then it makes sense for them to duplicate that investment now that their money isn’t going to it via the AFL. I’m not sure that CLC strike support meaningfully “costs more” to Change to Win unions under Sweeney’s plan if you count the costs of funding the AFL-CIO.

    If the question is whether having Change to Win locals in CLCs would be worthwhile for the CLCs even without a “solidarity fee,” then I’d agree that of course it would be.

    And if the question is whether Sweeney is still taking a punitive posture in relation to Change to Win, then I think we agree there too.

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