The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Unions Split on Local Labor Unity Proposal

by Brendan Coyne

Aug. 23, 2005 – A plan put forth to allow individual unions to work together at the state and local levels regardless of their national and international affiliations further highlights the recently-exacerbated divisions within the nation’s organized labor movement. Members of the dissident Change to Win coalition are criticizing the proposal even as a number of AFL-CIO affiliates signed a letter applauding the new rules.

Following the much-publicized labor split around the annual AFL-CIO convention late last month, many local union leaders expressed concern that barring disaffiliated labor groups from participating in all Federation-sponsored and -run organizations would cause unnecessary financial and organizational strife for rank-and-file efforts to organize workers and fight for change at the local level.

The concern followed confusion created by conflicting statements from AFL-CIO officials. At the beginning of the month, recently re-elected Federation president John Sweeney sent a letter to affiliates reiterating the labor body’s policies regarding non-member unions as well as participation in central labor councils, local groups that bring together unions in one geographical area. Labor writer Jonathan Tasini obtained and posted a copy of the letter on the Internet.

Sweeney’s letter is dated just days after AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka told reporters at the convention that no decision had been made on whether and to what extent disaffiliated unions that belong to the new body, the Change to Win (CTW) Coalition, would be able to work state and local level AFL-CIO groups. Three other unions work with both national bodies and remain eligible to participate in Federation events and campaigns.

Reportedly, several state-level AFL-CIO and central labor council leaders stated their intention to continue working with the three unions that left the Federation during this year’s convention.

On August 11, the Federation’s national body announced the creation of so-called "solidarity charters," a proposal that would allow the disaffiliated union locals to participate in central labor councils and other such AFL-CIO efforts. Non-member locals would be required to pay the charter’s normal per-capita member tax, as well as a 10 percent annual assessment, but would be barred from taking a leadership role in any Federation body, according to the proposal.

Change to Win Coalition members immediately rejected the offer. In a press statement, Chairperson Anna Berger cited "fine-print provisions" like a requirement binding Central Labor Council and state AFL-CIO members to decisions made by the organization’s national leadership. In stating their position, Berger reiterated earlier statements by SEIU President Andrew Stern and other dissident-union leaders pledging to work with local unions regardless of their affiliation.

Last week, central labor council and state AFL-CIO leaders from across the country signed a letter supporting Sweeney’s proposal and encouraging local CTW affiliates to participate. As of yet, there have been no reported takers.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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