Laborers Rejoin AFL-CIO, But Unity Not Total
Two years after making its first stab at rejoining organized labor, the Laborers International Union of North America is completing the reunion by returning to the AFL-CIO. The union, which bolted in 2006 to form an independent alliance with two other building trades, had reaffiliated with the umbrella group’s Building and Construction Trades Dept. in 2008.
The union rejoins the AFL-CIO after departing four years ago over a bitter dispute about the umbrella organization’s focus on political rather than grassroots organizing. The AFL-CIO re-affiliation becomes effective on Oct. 1. The laborers have shed 300,000 members in recent years amid the recession and construction unemployment, which reached in 17.5% in July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic reports.
“Despite the historic success of the 2008 federal elections, too much is not getting done on Capitol Hill,” Laborers’ General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement. “A united union movement can better focus Congress—and particularly the U.S. Senate—on helping to lead our nation, rather than being locked in inaction.”
Observers say the move comes amid signs that Change to Win, an alternative labor group with which the laborers’ group had affiliated, is showing signs of leadership disarray and waning political influence as midterm elections loom. In 2006, the laborers and the Teamsters union joined the AFL-CIO rival group, which was led by Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern. Recently, Stern has retired.
The laborers’ return under the AFL-CIO could mean a boost to the organization’s coffers. Says James Boland, president of the bricklayers’ union, “No one works closer than the bricklayer and the laborer on the jobsite. It’s great to be united once again as affiliates of the AFL-CIO.”
Despite efforts by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to push renewed labor unity, it remains unlikely that other building trades’ defectors, namely the carpenters and operating engineers’ unions, will rejoin anytime soon, say industry insiders. The latter union, however, did re-affiliate earlier with the AFL-CIO; its officials could not be reached.