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 AFL-CIO internal wrangling

    Stern-Hoffa Group Loses First Round
    By Harry Kelber

    Wednesday 09 March 2005

Seeking 50% rebate for organizing.
    For most of the three-day meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council on
March 1-3 in Las Vegas, there were heated debates, mainly about
money: who gets what share of the federation?s annual income, what for and
how much.

    A proposal by Teamster President James Hoffa to give international
unions 50% of the per capita contributions they pay the national AFL-CIO, a
rebate of $35 million, was rejected by the Executive Committee by a vote of
15 to 7.

    Those voting for the 50% rebate included the four members of the
recently disbanded New Union Partnership: Andy Stern, president of the
Service Employees, the articulate leader of the group; Bruce Raynor and John
Wilhelm, co-heads of Unite Here, and Terence O?Sullivan, president of the
Laborers. They were joined by Hoffa, Joe Hanson, president of the United
Food and Commercial Workers, and Ron Gettelfinger, president of the Auto
Workers.

    Opposing the Stern-Hoffa proposal were leaders of communication workers,
steel workers, public employees, machinists, teachers, electricians and nine
other unions.

    Stern and Hoffa said their group represented 40% of the total AFL-CIO
membership, and they would continue to fight for their proposal, right up to
the federation?s quadrennial convention in late July.

    The Executive Committee also approved, by 14 to 8, a proposal by AFL-CIO
President John Sweeney to increase the funding for political and legislative
activities to a total of $45 million a year.

    In demanding a 50% rebate of their per capita payments, the Stern-Hoffa
faction offered no analysis of past organizing failures, nor did they
indicate any new strategies that could improve labor?s record.
In the past two decades, AFL-CIO unions have been unable to organize any of
the scores of companies with 15,000 employees or more. Will more money
change the picture?

    There was almost no discussion about how the national AFL-CIO would be
able to operate if it had to return half of its annual income to the
international union affiliates, except that activities that did not
contribute to union organizing would be eliminated or shrunk.

    One heartening feature of the meeting was the agreement that labor?s top
priority is to defeat President Bush?s plan to privatize Social Security.
Unions pledged to conduct massive mobilizations, using the same tactics that
were so effective during the 2004 election.
Popularizing the union message will be an important component in the drive
to save Social Security. Winning this battle can give a major lift to union
organizing efforts.

    Decisions about the shape and future direction of the AFL-CIO may not be
reached until late July, when the 800 or so elected convention delegates
will have the last word. In the meantime, the Executive Council and its
subcommittees will hold a series of meetings in an attempt to resolve at
least some of the contentious issues.

    Andy Stern, as president of the largest and most successful union, has
come up with a restructuring plan that is both bold and controversial. He
would reduce the 58 international unions to twenty or fewer, with each
?mega? union responsible for a specific sector of the economy. The forced
merger plan has hardly any support within the labor federation.

    Stern?s plan has also been criticized as undemocratic, since it offers
no voice for union members, whose pensions and other benefits could be
adversely affected. It does not explain what would happen to many unions
that refuse to go along with the forced mergers.

    Other major unions have submitted proposals for revitalizing the labor
movement. The Communications Workers emphasize the need to strengthen
labor?s shop steward network and greater union democracy.
AFSCME would expand political activities, with year-round member
participation. The Machinists want a more effective outreach program,
including a national publication that would explain labor?s message to the
unorganized. The Teachers want labor to function as a ?people?s lobby,? with
more attention to broad social issues in the public domain.
Unlike the Stern proposal, none of the others call for a radical
restructuring of existing unions.

    Stern keeps repeating that if he considers any reforms as ?cosmetic,? he
will take his union out of the AFL-CIO and form his own labor federation.
His constant threats and arrogant behavior have angered labor leaders and
activists, especially those who resent his dismissive attitude toward union
democracy.

    Although Stern claims 1.8 million members for the Service Employees, his
union made per capita payments to the AFL-CIO in 2004 for only 1,354,000
members, according to the latest AFL-CIO Membership Report.

    Thus, if the 1.8 million SEIU figure is correct, the union failed to pay
per capita for 446,000 members, short-changing the AFL-CIO by $3,264,720. Or
it may be that the SEIU does not have 1.8 million dues payers, as it claims.
Stern has an obligation to clear up the discrepancy.

    Meanwhile, there?s backroom talk about who will be the next AFL-CIO
president. Sweeney wants another four-year term, but there is hardly any
enthusiasm for his re-election. Stern?s candidate for the top post is his
close associate, John Wilhelm, who is virtually unknown outside of his hotel
and restaurant union.

    Now that even the bureaucratic leadership realizes that the labor
movement is in a profound crisis, union members need ? and deserve ? a more
energetic, articulate and popular AFL-CIO president to lead them.
Let us hope that such a candidate emerges in the less than five months
before the convention.