- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

The AFL-CIO labor federation likely will lose another union as soon as today.

Unite Here, the 450,000-member union representing workers in the hotel, restaurant and apparel industries, plans to make the long-awaited decision to disaffiliate during a meeting in St. Paul, Minn., of top union officials.

The defection would give momentum to the rival Change to Win Coalition, founded in June by unions unhappy with AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, but could have ramifications for Unite Here’s New York-based Amalgamated Bank.

The AFL-CIO said it had discussions with Unite Here in an attempt to persuade officials to stay, but it expects the union to defect.

Unite Here spokeswoman Anastasia Ordonez said union officials will discuss disaffiliation today, but no decision to leave has been made.

Unite Here would become the fourth union this year to leave the AFL-CIO, whose membership would fall to 52 unions after the union’s departure. Three of the AFL-CIO’s largest unions — the Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, and United Food and Commercial Workers — left the federation during its annual convention in Chicago in July.

The four renegade unions represent a combined 4.9 million workers, and the AFL-CIO membership would fall to about 8 million members.

“You’re getting to a point where there are two substantial labor federations. It’s like 1935,” said Paul Clark, professor of labor studies and industrial relations at Pennsylvania State University.

United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis led the defection of eight unions that year, and they formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which remained separate from the American Federation of Labor until 1955.

Unite Here will follow the other three unions to the Change to Win Coalition. The coalition includes the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Laborers International Union and United Farm Workers. While the carpenters union left the AFL-CIO in 2001, the laborers and farm workers are maintaining membership in both houses of labor.

The union gave Unite Here’s 10-member executive committee authority in March to leave the federation, but the committee and the union’s general executive board continue to debate their defection.

The direct impact to the AFL-CIO will be a loss of $29 million that the four unions paid to support the federation. That amounts to 23 percent of the federation’s $125 million budget.

But a defection could harm Unite Here as well. Unions remaining in the AFL-CIO have threatened to withdraw their deposits from Amalgamated Bank if Unite Here pulls out of the federation.

The Communications Workers of America withdrew $51 million after the annual winter meeting in Las Vegas in February, when the service employees union made it clear it planned to leave the federation if vast reforms were not put in place.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has an estimated $750 million in deposits and pensions at Amalgamated.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers makes $150 million in deposits annually at the bank.

The AFL-CIO also has its money in the bank, but it hasn’t decided whether to take it out.

“We’re not going to speculate on what we’ll do if they leave,” AFL-CIO spokeswoman A. Lane Windham said.

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