- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

The AFL-CIO is enduring a budget shortfall so severe that its own workers are taking two days of unpaid leave to avoid layoffs, even as the labor federation attempts to mobilize its largest-ever political campaign.

Dubbed “solidarity days,” the days off were part of an agreement in contract negotiations during the summer between managers and the union representing about 200 workers at the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of 64 international unions. Managers also have agreed to take the unpaid time.

AFL-CIO spokeswoman Lane Windham said employees covered by the Newspaper Guild Local 32035 decided they would rather lose pay for two days than face layoffs caused by a budget crunch.

Other belt-tightening measures are being taken in response to a dismal economy that hit many unions with layoffs, and to begin an all-out effort to defeat President Bush in 2004.

The number of layoffs was never discussed in the negotiations, said Deborah Weinstock, an AFL-CIO employee and a guild leader. “It didn’t get to that point,” she said.

Miss Windham said that members of AFL-CIO-affiliated unions have been hit hard by the loss of 2.3 million jobs since January 2001, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which has slashed payrolls for 38 consecutive months.

Defeating Mr. Bush in 2004 has become a mission for organized labor. Union leaders say Mr. Bush is determined to destroy the political power of unions, and they see permanent damage in a second term.

“It’s safe to say we will put as much as we possibly can of all of our resources into the political campaign,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

Some union presidents have asked Mr. Sweeney to trim fat from the AFL-CIO’s overall budget and to apply any savings to the federation’s political program.

With Mr. Bush expected to pocket more than $200 million in campaign contributions, “I think we know that to be able to talk to our members and in some cases nonunion voters, we’re going to need a lot of resources to be heard,” said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest in the AFL-CIO.

About $5 million was diverted from the labor federation’s organizing efforts to help fund what Mr. Sweeney said is “the biggest, earliest, most aggressive grass-roots political program in our history.”

The federation has about $35 million budgeted for member mobilization and politics in the election cycle, Mr. Sweeney said.

That is less than the $42 million spent in 2000.

But some union presidents are pushing for a $45 million budget that also would help fund several of the union-run political nonprofit groups that have been created to turn out Democratic voters.

Labor leaders early next year will consider levying on affiliate unions another surcharge of 4 cents per member, per month — called a per-capita tax — to raise funds.

“We’re going to put together as strong a financial resource package” as possible, Mr. Sweeney said.

But the tax increase could encounter some resistance. The same surcharge was approved for the 2002 election cycle — after much grumbling from some unions — and it was supposed to pay for the political program through 2005.

Some unions find they are strapped for cash. The United Food and Commercial Workers, for instance, is pouring money into the nearly two-month labor dispute in California between grocery chains and about 70,000 workers.

The union is drawing from a line of credit on its headquarters building in Washington to help fund strike benefits for workers and to pay for other costs, and it has asked other unions for financial support.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the second-largest union in the AFL-CIO, is cutting spending to raise more money for politics.

AFSCME is suspending raises for its employees in 2004 and directing the six-figure savings to politics, said President Gerald McEntee. Travel also is being restricted, including a ban on first-class tickets, and other cuts are being considered.

“We’re telling people for 2004 we’ve got to postpone a lot of this — this is kind of a do-or-die situation,” Mr. McEntee said.

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