AFL-CIO Execs Meet in Las Vegas

by Bill Onasch

“They’re not making change, they’re faking change. This just gives me another reason why this AFL-CIO doesn’t work.” So said SEIU president Andy Stern, commenting on the AFL-CIO executive committee meeting held in Las Vegas at the end of Februarybeginning of March 2005.

News reports and official blogs made sure what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas—as is so often the case with these traditional gatherings by the penthouse residents of the House of Labor. By all accounts the participants were testy, sometimes using the kind of colorful language they imagine their members use in the shop and that is frowned upon by the FCC.

Many expected this conclave to be an important milepost in a great debate leading up to the AFL-CIO convention later this summer. Stern initiated this organized debate after the last executive meeting, launching the Unite To Win web site. Somewhat later, the Federation’s president, John Sweeney, authorized a similar AFL-CIO site. Both of these forums have attracted a broad spectrum of comments from leaders and ranks alike.

But this interesting discussion fueled far more heat than light in Vegas. The agenda centered on two proposals: (1) a call for a “rebate” of half the per capita dues payments paid to the AFL-CIO—the money being returned to national unions for organizing purposes; (2) doubling AFL-CIO contributions to supporting the Democrats over the next election cycle.

One observer commented it was just a “sordid squabble over money.”

The rebate gimmick, advanced by an unlikely “reformer,” Teamsters President James Hoffa, seemed not unlike replacing federal spending programs with block grants to the states. Little evidence was presented showing how this money would be translated into more effective organizing. Clearly a fifty percent reduction in Federation income would gut the present structure.

This wrecking ball approach to labor’s home base, and other proposals for consolidating and “streamlining” union structure, have justly raised concerns among Black trade union leaders and activists, summed up well in No Real Labor ‘Reform’ Without Blacks in the Black Commentator.

You would think that with 88 percent of the American working class unorganized there would be plenty of opportunity for all. But Stern and AFSCME president Gerald McEntee got into a heated fracas over 49,000 child care workers in Illinois. Stern accused AFSCME of bird-dogging SEIU’s decade-long efforts by prematurely filing for an election for 20,000 of them.

Hoffa’s rebate scheme, supported by Stern, UNITE-HERE, the Laborers, and UFCW, was rejected 14-8. But the majority demonstrated they weren’t just cheapskates. They approved the plan to increase political spending to support their Democrat “friends” to 90 million dollars.

Later, they all joined together in admiration with the new Democrat Party chairman, Howard Dean.

Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic, on March 5, posted an interesting article on the Labor Party web site, The Debate Continues: A Revitalized Labor Movement Needs a New Vision of Politics. While wisely staying away from the momentous controversies that generated so much contention in Sin City, Dudzic introduces some new proposals for discussion that merit attention. The article also offers an opportunity for comment by sending remarks to Dudzic will be a featured speaker at the Future Of American Labor conference in Kansas City April 22–23, 2005.