Unions discontent with AFL-CIO form coalition

Unhappy with the AFL-CIO’s recruiting efforts, five of the group’s largest unions – including the Laborers’ Union — formed an alliance June 15 aimed at boosting participation in the nation’s organized labor movement.

The Change to Win Coalition, led by the Service Employees International Union, also includes the Teamsters, Unite-Here and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The executive board of SEIU, the largest and fastest growing union in the AFL-CIO, authorized its leaders on June 10 to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO if necessary.

Terence O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ Union, said in a statement American workers need a movement capable of building power and strength – a task the AFL-CIO currently cannot lead. “There are no easy fixes, and our union, like other unions, has much work to do,” O’Sullivan said. “But we believe that without radical change, we cannot continue to survive as a significant force.”

The Laborers’ Union represents 800,000 workers and is the third fastest growing union in the AFL-CIO, having added more than 77,000 members since 1999.

The five coalition unions say the AFL-CIO, a federation that represents dozens of affiliates, has spent too much time and money on politics and not enough to promote union membership, which has been steadily declining for a decade.

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney reacted to the formation of the coalition by pledging millions of dollars for an organizing drive. He said organizing capacity and political power are intertwined, and workers need a union movement that succeeds on both fronts. “Now is the time to use our unity to build real worker power, not create a real divide that serves the corporations and the anti-worker politicians,” Sweeney said in a statement.

Leaders of the five Change to Win unions said the coalition will launch a large-scale, coordinated campaign to rebuild the nation’s labor movement. Fifty top officials from the unions approved a constitution and bylaws for the group.

The coalition’s website, which debuted in coordination with the June 15 announcement, includes an action proposal that blames the decline in union membership on a lack of incentives and leadership from the AFL-CIO. “When one in three American workers belonged to a union, the union movement had the strength to raise living standards for all working people,” reads the website’s opening statement. “Today, with fewer than one in 12 private sector workers in a union, our government is helping unchecked global corporations reverse a century of progress.”

The five unions represent approximately 5 million workers.