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Weakened AFL-CIO pledges to organize workers

July 26, 2005

By Alonso Soto

CHICAGO (Reuters) – AFL-CIO delegates voted on Tuesday to
nearly double spending to recruit new members, a day after two
of its key unions severed ties to the labor federation
complaining about declining membership.

Delegates representing some 50 unions and 10 million
members passed a resolution that will devote $22.5 million to
organizing efforts, up from $12.5 million last year.

The measure also asks affiliate unions to spend 30 percent
of their annual budgets on organizing and promote mergers of
smaller unions to increase leverage on employers.

Defections by the Teamsters and service workers’ unions on
Monday siphoned more than 3 million members and $18 million in
annual dues from the parent AFL-CIO’s $125 million budget.

“It will hurt us,” said AFL-CIO treasurer Richard Trumka
said of the defection by the 1.4-million-member Teamsters and
the 1.8-million-member Service Employees International Union.

Trumka said union leaders will meet in two weeks to figure
out how to raise the money for the organizing drive.

Three smaller unions — the Laborers union, the United Food
and Commercial Workers, and the United Farm Workers — had
previously joined with the Teamsters and service workers in
forming a group aimed at changing what leaders called the
AFL-CIO’s antiquated approach.

It was not clear whether the smaller unions would also
leave the AFL-CIO during this week’s convention, a union
spokesmen said.

The dissidents charge the AFL-CIO devotes too much of its
resources to political lobbying and the central office.

Leaders of the two breakaway unions pledged to use more
resources to organize and enroll workers.

“We should expect to see more organizing from those groups
inside the AFL-CIO and those outside,” said Mike Asensio, a
labor relations lawyer from Columbus, Ohio. “There will be a
lot of competition and resources put out to go after nonunion
employees.”

The internal rift comes amid what some analysts perceive as
labor’s waning influence in both the workplace and the voting
booth and uncertainty about the direction of the labor
movement.

“This is good news for the corporations and political
conservatives,” said Harvard University economist James Medoff.
“A divided labor movement is a weaker labor movement and
employers know this very well.”

But other labor analysts said the split could spark
competition for union membership and revive the declining labor
movement.

The AFL-CIO, led by John Sweeney, has condemned the
dissidents’ departures at a time when organized labor feels
under siege by what it views as an unfriendly Republican

administration and Republican-dominated Congress.

Since Sweeney assumed leadership of the federation in 1995,
union membership has fallen from 15.5 percent of the U.S. work
force to 12.5 percent. Reasons for the decline include the rise
of anti-union giants such as Wal-Mart and the moving of jobs
overseas.




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