Big Labor, Back Pockets

Article excerpt


The 1.4 million members of the United Food and Commercial Workers have now joined the 1.8 million members of the Service Employees International Union and the 1.4 million Teamsters in disaffiliating themselves from the AFL-CIO. If, as expected, the 450,000 members of UNITE HERE, which represents hotel, restaurant and textile workers, bolt the labor federation, then the AFL-CIO will have lost more than five million, or nearly 40 percent, of its 13 million members.

That's not the way the AFL-CIO planned on celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1955 merger between the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which at the time collectively represented about 35 percent of nation's private-sector workforce. Today, only 12.5 percent of the total U.S. workforce is unionized, and fewer than eight in 100 private-sector workers carry a union card. But it is the price exacted by the losers in the federation's recent power struggle.

Ten years ago, the labor movement was also fractured. Then, however, the dissidents were able to muster a majority in the AFL-CIO. Led by then-SEIU President John Sweeney and Gerald McEntee, the longtime president of AFSCME, the dissidents succeeded in ousting AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and eventually capturing control of the AFL-CIO. Today, unable to secure the support of a majority, the dissidents, who were led by Andrew Stern (Mr. Sweeney's successor at SEIU), could not defeat Mr. Sweeney's bid for re-election at the convention. So they bolted.

Publicly, the defectors complained that Mr. Sweeney spent too few dollars on organizing activities (as if there were a shortage of union funds available for organizing), while becoming too attached to the Democratic Party. …