June 16, 2005 – Five unions highly critical of the AFL-CIOâ€™s leadership formalized their relationship yesterday as they announced the creation of a coalition dedicated to reinvigorating and growing union membership in the United States, casting greater uncertainty on the future of the labor federation as it approaches its 50th anniversary.
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney responded to the action almost immediately, cautioning against division in the movement and calling on workers and labor leaders to exercise "solidarity" in the face of "the biggest assault in 80 years" from government and corporations
In conjunction with the announcement of the Change to Win Coalition, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) president Joe Hansen announced that the unionâ€™s executive board had approved a measure to leave the AFL-CIO. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) approved a similar measure last week.
Ostensibly led by the Service Employee International Union, the Change to Win Coalition approved a constitution and bylaws, held a press conference and launched a website in an effort to broadcast their partnership. The other members of the group are the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unite Here, the Teamsters and the Laborers International Union of North America. Together they represent 5 million workers.
The move follows several recent developments that suggest a split over where to invest resources is leading the Federation toward a divide on the anniversary of the 1955 merger between the American Federation of labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
Members of Change to Win would like to see a greater investment in worker organizing and claim AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has wasted money and resources on politics while union membership dwindled. The Federation leadership contends it is trying to please all members.
John Wilhelm, president of the Here branch of Unite Here, is widely rumored to be considering a challenge to Sweeney at the Federationâ€™s convention this July.
In his statement on the Change to Win Coalition, Sweeney said that the AFL-CIOâ€™s new financial commitments to organizing workplaces may amount to as much $500 million a year. The executive committee approved of the measures two days ago.