- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

The AFL-CIO yesterday approved the return of the United Transportation Union to the federation, four years after its departure.

The 60,000-member union is the second labor group in two weeks to indicate it wants membership in the AFL-CIO. The California Nurses Association last month decided to ask the AFL-CIO for a charter and is petitioning for membership.

Transportation Union spokesman Frank Wilner said the union no longer wants to remain independent.

“It’s more about a philosophical belief that there should be one umbrella organization in order to send a clear and unambiguous message to lawmakers,” he said.

The union also may be seeking re-entry now because the Teamsters left the AFL-CIO this past summer and helped found the Change to Win Coalition, a group of seven unions opposing AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney’s policies. The Teamsters represent the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, which has been in a pitched battle with the United Transportation Union for decades over representation of railroad industry employees.

Mr. Sweeney said the return of the Transportation Union, whose members include railroad conductors at Amtrak, is significant in light of the Bush administration’s attempt this year to cut funding for the passenger rail service and efforts by unions to boost safety by doubling the number of federal rail inspectors.

“The reaffiliation of the UTU with the AFL is a real plus for rail workers all over the country,” Mr. Sweeney said.

Before the union returns, Mr. Wilner said, its delegates must approve a proposed increase in union dues. That increase would fund the union’s monthly dues to the AFL-CIO.

Delegates will finish voting Oct. 30 and tallying should be complete in early November.

“The roadblock is whether we can afford the dues” assessed by the AFL-CIO, Mr. Wilner said.

The United Transportation Union left the AFL-CIO in 2001. The locomotive engineers union complained the transportation union was attempting to raid its membership. The federation prepared to issue sanctions against the transportation union, but the union left before it was sanctioned.

“We chose to depart because we didn’t get the response from the AFL-CIO we were looking for,” Mr. Wilner said.

The United Transportation Union has been in talks with the AFL-CIO about rejoining since last year, after Paul Thompson took over as president.

Mr. Thompson replaced Byron Boyd, who pleaded guilty in March 2004 to racketeering.

After Mr. Thompson took over, Mr. Sweeney sent him a hand-written note indicating the AFL-CIO’s interest in having the transportation union return to the federation.

But talks stalled until the Teamsters left the AFL-CIO at the federation’s convention in Chicago in July.

The addition of the transportation union and the California Nurses Association would boost membership in the AFL-CIO to 54 unions and about 8.5 million workers.

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