Unions to Quit AFL-CIO; Four Dissatisfied Groups Walk out on Convention

Article excerpt

Byline: William Glanz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

CHICAGO - Four unions yesterday stormed out of the AFL-CIO's convention in Chicago, boycotting the annual event hours before it began, and likely will announce today that they plan to leave the federation entirely.

The Teamsters, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Unite Here said a lack of will to put sweeping reforms in place at the labor federation persuaded them to boycott the convention.

"We're not trying to divide the labor movement; we're trying to rebuild it," SEIU President Andrew Stern said.

Even though the unions did not cut ties yesterday with the AFL-CIO, UFCW President Joseph Hansen said differences between the dissidents and the federation leadership are so vast that they can't be bridged.

"We believe in building power for workers. They believe in building power for institutions," Mr. Hansen said.

Their decision to leave the convention was expected by many in the labor movement because the unions had indicated for days that they might walk out.

Their departure was met with a mixture of sadness and disdain.

"I think there are some unions that are very bitter. Others hold out hope that they will come back," said Gerald McEntee, president of the 1.4-million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.Others were openly hostile.

Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, was among the most agitated by the walkout, calling their action "treasonous."

"They abandon us. They abandon their mission," Mr. Haynes said.

The last walkout at an AFL convention occurred in 1935 when United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis left, then formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

The four unions that staged yesterday's walkout represent about 5 million of the 13 million workers in the AFL-CIO's 58 labor unions. Although it is a large contingent, the unions do not have enough leverage to push their reform proposals through the convention.

The dissidents are upset over the labor movement's decline. American union membership has fallen from 35 percent of the work force in 1955 to 12.5 percent today. Only about 8 percent of private-sector workers are in unions.

The linchpin of their proposals was a measure to boost funding for organizing activity. Teamsters President James P. Hoffa pressed hard to persuade other union presidents and AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney to support a plan to return half of the dues paid to the federation and use the money to fund organization efforts.

But Mr. Sweeney gained support for his own measure that would return $22.5 million in dues back to unions, if delegates approve the plan at this week's convention.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the 270,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters and a supporter of Mr. …