Friday, July 22, 2005

A group of dissident labor unions opposing AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney yesterday added the small farmworkers union as an ally.

The addition of the United Farm Workers increases membership in the month-old Change To Win Coalition to seven unions.

But adding the UFW, founded in 1966 by Cesar Chavez, gives the coalition just 31,000 new members and won’t help them push their reform proposals through next week’s convention in Chicago.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said his union’s alliance with the Change To Win Coalition isn’t meant as an affront to Mr. Sweeney, but as an endorsement of the coalition’s principles.

“We believe in an all-out focus on organizing,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

The Teamsters, Unite Here, Laborers’ International Union of North America, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and Service Employees International Union have proposed a series of reform measures that they argue will strengthen the labor movement, including greater investment in union organizing. The unions have said they may leave the AFL-CIO if their reform proposals are ignored.

Despite the threats by the Teamsters, Unite Here, UFCW and SEIU, the dissident unions have been unable to muster support for their reforms.

The dissident unions also could decide tomorrow to leave Chicago before the convention begins. The unions are not expected to announce tomorrow that they will leave the AFL-CIO.

Mr. Rodriguez said the UFW will participate in the convention but hasn’t decided whether to remain in the AFL-CIO.

The coalition blames Mr. Sweeney for failing to respond to labor’s shrinking fortunes. AFL-CIO membership has fallen from 35 percent of the work force in 1955, when the AFL and CIO merged, to 12.5 percent, or 13 million workers. Only about 8 percent of private-sector workers are in unions.

The coalition wants the AFL-CIO to return half of the dues paid to the 58-member federation so it can fund organizing campaigns. Mr. Sweeney wants to limit rebates to $22.5 million and argues that returning half of union dues will cost too much and make it difficult to fund the federation’s political activities and other programs.

The Teamsters, UFCW and SEIU have withheld payment of $8.5 million in dues to put pressure on the AFL-CIO, but they must pay the money if they want to participate in the convention.

Unions in the coalition represent about 5.8 million AFL-CIO members.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, which left the AFL-CIO in 2001 and represents 520,000 workers, joined the Change To Win Coalition after it formed.

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