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UFCW becomes third union to break with AFL-CIO

July 29, 2005

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The 1.4-million-member United Food and
Commercial Workers broke away from the AFL-CIO on Friday, the
third major union to leave the labor organization this week
because of differences over how to address declining
membership.

The 1.8-million-member Service Workers International Union
and the 1.4-million-member International Teamsters Union left
the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial
Organizations, or AFL-CIO, at the start of its convention in
Chicago on Monday.

The leaders of those unions said they favored more
aggressive organizing efforts than the AFL-CIO, arguing the
parent organization devoted too many resources to political
campaigns and lobbying, and that new strategies were needed
against non-union corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
and FedEx Corp. .

“The UFCW, in order to pursue the most effective course of
action for its members and all workers in its core industries,
is terminating its affiliation with the AFL-CIO effective
immediately,” said Food and Commercial Workers’ President Joe
Hansen in a letter to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

The move was expected, though Sweeney had said at the close
of the convention that he hoped to persuade disaffected unions
to return to the fold. In an attempt to mollify the dissidents,
the federation resolved to double to $25 million the amount of
money spent annually on organizing.

Critics of the dissident unions called the disaffiliations
an attempt at a power grab by Service Workers President Andy
Stern — who was once Sweeney’s protege — and Teamsters leader
James Hoffa. The two unions had contributed $18 million in
annual dues to the AFL-CIO’s $125 million budget.

After the defections of three of its largest unions, the
AFL-CIO comprises 53 unions and represents about 8.5 million
workers.

Union membership has been in rapid decline in the United
States, with U.S. Labor Department statistics showing 12.5
percent of wage and salary workers were union members in 2004,
down from 20 percent in 1983. Currently, only about 8 percent
of private sector workers are union members.

Hansen of the Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW, was
conciliatory, saying “our commitment to work with the AFL-CIO
and unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO on issues and programs
where we share common goals remains unchanged.

“I believe our movement is united in our basic principles
and values, even if we pursue different strategies. The UFCW
and its local unions will continue to fund and work with state
and local federations in politics and lobbying, and for mutual
support of worker struggles,” he said.

At least three other affiliated unions may leave the
AFL-CIO in coming weeks, union sources said. They are UNITE
HERE (garment, textile and hotel workers), the Laborers
International of North America, and the United Farm Workers. A
seventh member of the coalition, the Carpenters and Joiners
union, left the AFL-CIO four years ago.




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