Four of the largest members of the AFL-CIO will boycott its convention which begins Monday. This move comes in anticipation of the 4 disaffiliating themselves from the 50 year old organization. The four are the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE, a group of textile and hotel workers. They will probably be joined by the United Farm Workers and the Laborers International Union of North America who say they will attend the convention. These 6 giant unions will be welcomed outside the AFL-CIO by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America which left the AFL-CIO in 2002.
This would be a heavy blow to the AFL-CIO. These 7 unions, which have loosely affiliated themselves in an organization called the Change to Win Coalition, take with them over 4 million members, about one third of the AFL-CIO membership. They also take 35 million dollars annually in dues paid to the AFL-CIO. They have also refused to pay 7 million dollars in back dues withheld from the AFL-CIO in an effort to force reform on the big organization. The AFL-CIO recently laid off a quarter of its 400 person office staff.
The dissidents are demanding that more money be spent on organizing and less on the AFL-CIO's political funding of loser candidates like John Kerry and Al Gore. When the giant organization was formed 50 years ago, 1 of every 3 working men and women belonged to a union. Today it is 1 of 8 overall and, in the private sector, less than 1 in 12 (8.2%).
This may also be a heavy blow to the Democratic party since the unions are its very backbone. With a steep reduction in political alms from the unions, the Democrats face a money crunch. With the loss of the blanket knee jerk endorsement of organized labor, the Democrats also face a vote crunch. One of the sticking points between the rank-and-file and the union bosses in the last presidential election was that, while roughly 35% of the rank-and-file voted Republican, almost 100% of the AFL-CIO's political charity went to Democratic candidates.
The AFL-CIO spent 100 million dollars of its members money on the 2004 election and lost spectacularly. The victory of G. W. Bush and other losses in Congress left the organized labor movement reeling. The dissidents had been lobbying for reform for a long time but the 2004 debacle cinched it for them. They want long time president John Sweeney out and new blood in. When it began to look like Sweeney would win reelection and they would not get the reforms they wanted, they decided to bolt. Sweeney had promised when first elected in 1995 to devote 30% of union dues to recruiting. That never happened.
Andrew Stern, 53, president of SEIU, the federation's largest, fastest-growing union, with nearly 1.7 million members, wrote a far reaching 10 point proposal which included demanding more money be spent on recruiting and organizing as well as to consolidate the 65 AFL-CIO unions into perhaps 20 or fewer. That would have meant the loss of some 45 presidencies by ensconced union bosses. You know that ain't never gonna fly. In fact, his plan was presented to the confederation at its November meeting and was considered for all of 10 minutes at the end of the meeting. "That was beyond insult,'' said Tom Woodruff, SEIU international executive vice president.
Perhaps proving that the AFL-CIO bosses have no desire to change, a Sweeney ally, Paul Booth, assistant to the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the SEIU-Stern plan "would be stronger if it focused more on what it takes to achieve political success." Meaning that if 100 million dollars out of the pockets of working men and women was not enough, the AFL-CIO is perfectly willing to take more. When does it stop? 150 million dollars? 200 million dollars? Does it stop when a worker on the assembly line at the Ford plant finds himself each day working 4 hours for his family and 4 hours for local, state and national Democratic political hacks (or Republicans, for that matter)?
Does the phrase "out of touch" have a somewhat familiar ring?
Some other comments on this development:
Jason at Polipundit - The party of unity...or not.
Jonathan Tasini at Working Life is at the convention. He also attended the dissidents rally. If you are interested in these important developments, this is the place to be.
The Captain says One of the key political pillars of the Democratic Party has crumbled.
Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly suspects it's for the best.
California High School Conservative says this is great news.
RadioActive Chief says unions showing disunion.
James Joyner at OTB says From professional athletes to auto assemblyline workers to airline pilots to package deliverymen, those going on strike have learned the hard way that there is a limit to the percentage of the company's gross that can go to pay labor costs.
Stephen Green at Vodkapundit says Unions gave a negotiating voice to those without one, and (sometimes) a mailed fist to hit back at the Pinkerton goons some businesses used to keep their workers oppressed. But those days are long gone...
Chris Short at Conservative Thinking says Unions are the one thing holding our economy back and destroying the industries that every American needs.
Cernig at NewsHog says The new Coalition is a bright hope for those workers and for the American Left.
Oliver at The Liquid List says Change To Win will not be eating bratwurst this week.