- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

ST. LOUIS — Seven unions that left the AFL-CIO labor federation laid the foundation yesterday for a second house of labor, vowing to invest millions of dollars in organizing campaigns.

“We are going to be a lean, mean organizing machine,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa told a frenzied crowd of an estimated 1,000 people who filled the ballroom of a downtown hotel.

The inaugural meeting of the Change to Win Coalition began and ended in one day, but lasted long enough to allow the group’s 5.4 million members to approve a constitution and bylaws, appoint officers and pass a raft of resolutions. The coalition will attempt to reverse a long decline in the labor movement through aggressive organizing campaigns.

The leadership of the Change to Win Coalition approved a plan to charge 25 cents per member per month. Dues from members of the Teamsters, Laborers, Carpenters, Unite Here, United Farm Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, and Service Employees International will generate $16 million annually.

AFL-CIO affiliates, which represent more than 8 million workers, pay dues of 63 cents per member per month. With their departure from the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, Unite Here, Service Employees and United Food and Commercial Workers are taking away about $29 million annually.

“There’s nothing the Change to Win unions are doing today they couldn’t have done in unity with the entire union movement, from within the AFL-CIO. Instead, they’ve chosen a path which divides union members at a time when working people are under attack as never before,” AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said.

Mr. Hoffa said Change to Win unions will spend $750 million annually to fund organizing campaigns. That includes money from dues to support the new coalition, dues the seven coalition unions would have paid to the AFL-CIO and money the unions already invest in organizing efforts.

Union presidents said they will target Wal-Mart and Cincinnati uniform cleaner Cintas Corp., but didn’t outline their strategy to organize workers at either company.

“Wal-Mart is committed to making a positive contribution to working families and we do it every day. We’re disappointed that some continue to ignore the facts and fail to provide any real vision for the future. It’s not surprising that organized labor is under such scrutiny when they have so little to say,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher.

Union presidents said the coalition will work with both Democrats and Republicans to further its agenda.

“Organizing is our core principle. It is our north star,” said Anna Burger, who was officially elected yesterday to a two-year term as chairwoman of the Change to Win Coalition.

Ms. Burger said Tom Woodruff, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union and the architect of that union’s growth, will take over a new strategic organizing center to be established in the District.

The center will attempt to organize workers in industries that can’t be “outsourced or digitized,” said Mr. Woodruff, who helped double the size of the SEIU to 1.8 million members. That includes jobs in health care, food processing, hospitality, gaming and retail, he said.

The strategic organizing center, to be funded with union dues, will develop strategy to organize workers, said Mr. Woodruff, a native West Virginian who made a long, rhythmic speech that was arguably the most well-received soliloquy in a day filled with speeches.

Unions in the new coalition have had combined growth of 1.5 percent over five years, Mr. Woodruff said, and one of its goals will include starting campaigns by the end of the year to add 500,000 workers.

“Hopefully what you’ll see out of this is large-scale organizing efforts. Organizing solely on a local basis won’t increase our numbers enough,” Laborers International Union President Terence O’Sullivan said.

Mr. O’Sullivan said the new organizing center will allow his union to rely on the organizing expertise of unions such as the SEIU, the fastest-growing union in the country.

Members of the seven unions embraced their new independence from the AFL-CIO with unbounded enthusiasm and roared powerfully during speeches by Mr. Hoffa and Unite Here President Bruce Raynor.

“The excitement here hopefully can be turned into an organization that helps us grow not by the thousands, but by the millions,” Mr. O’Sullivan said.

The excitement also was tinged with a sense of urgency.

“If we do not drastically change, there will be no labor movement in this country,” United Food and Commercial Workers President Joseph Hansen said.

The excitement also is premature, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm and these unions are excited about their new direction. Whether this group of unions will be able to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs is very much up in the air,” Mr. Wong said.

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