- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

The AFL-CIO will lay off up to a quarter of its staff in response to a decision last week to restructure operations.

Robert Welsh, chief of staff for AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, told employees at the federation yesterday that 80 to 100 people will be laid off.

The AFL-CIO, a Washington-based federation representing 58 labor unions, employs 421 persons.

The decision to cut the work force is a result of last week’s meeting in Las Vegas of the 24-member executive committee.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters began a debate within the AFL-CIO over restructuring when it proposed cutting by 50 percent the contributions unions make to the federation. That money, about $35 million annually, would have funded efforts by the unions to organize workers.

The Teamsters’ plan, which had the backing of four other unions, was an effort to trim the size of the AFL-CIO and begin a series of broad changes that Teamsters President James P. Hoffa argued would strengthen the stagnant labor movement.

But the executive committee rejected the proposal 15-7.

Instead the group endorsed a plan from Mr. Sweeney, who is running for a third term as AFL-CIO president, to increase spending on political and legislative activity from $32 million to $45 million annually and gave preliminary approval to cut the amount of money the federation spends on organizing activity by about $15 million.

“It’s a surprise to us and other unions because our proposal didn’t win. President Sweeney had support for his budget over ours,” Teamsters spokeswoman Leigh Strope said.

Mr. Welsh didn’t say when the cuts will come or identify which workers are likely to lose their jobs.

“The first step is to develop a new blueprint for what staffing and capacity should look like, given the vision that Sweeney laid out and the executive council signed off on,” said Denise Mitchell, special assistant to Mr. Sweeney.

Miss Mitchell said the federation would have had to cut about 200 jobs if labor leaders had approved the Teamsters’ plan.

Mr. Sweeney took over the AFL-CIO in 1995 and placed renewed emphasis on organizing workers and rebuilding labor’s strength.

Ten years later, the movement faces serious challenges as union membership declines. The percentage of workers in unions has fallen from about 16 percent in 1994 to 12.5 percent last year.

That’s why Mr. Hoffa and his supporters pushed for more spending on organizing and giving unions more money to organize workers.

But Mr. Sweeney and his allies said repeatedly last week in Las Vegas that labor must also fund a vigorous political campaign. This year the AFL-CIO plans to stage an aggressive attack against President Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security.

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