With less than two weeks between the end of the AFL-CIO convention and the start of the Building and Construction Trades Dept. conclave, BCTD leaders are meeting to reshape resolutions that will be considered following the departure of the teamsters and carpenters.
The teamsters, along with the service employees union, withdrew from the AFL-CIO on July 25, the first day of the labor federations 50th constitutional convention in Chicago. The carpenters left the AFL-CIO in 2001 but had been given a convention deadline to reaffiliate. AFL-CIO and BCTD leaders have been perfectly clear: They will uphold the federations constitution, which requires AFL-CIO membership in order for a union to participate in an affiliated department. "The rules are what the rules are," says a BCTD official. Its meeting opens in Boston on Aug. 9.
The departure of two of the federations largest unions and a convention boycott by two other unions that represent food and commercial workers and hotel and textile employees overshadowed the first two days of the meetings. Those four unions, along with the carpenters, laborers and farm workers, will marshall their collective resources in the new Change to Win Coalition
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney called their action "a grievous insult to all the unions...in this hall who came here to discuss and debate the difficult issues and make historic changes." Sweeneys supporters planned to adopt a range of resolutions, including measures that would strengthen organizing efforts in a bid to boost sagging union membership. It has fallen nationwide to roughly 8% of private-sector workers. The dissident unions argued earlier that Sweeneys proposals were too little, too late. Many had proposed competing resolutions, but they were not considered by the 900 delegates at the meetings. Sweeneys reelection on July 28 to another four-year term was not expected to be challenged.
The mood of the delegates and others on the convention floor was "disappointed" and "very concerned," says Joe Hunt, president of the ironworkers union. "Theyre angry," says laborers chief Terry OSullivan. "Its just a bad situation. We need now more than ever to unify," says Mike Sullivan, president of the sheetmetal workers union. Nevertheless, Sullivan does not expect any of the 13 remaining construction unions in BCTD to refuse to work with the teamsters and carpenters on union projects. "That cant happen" if union construction wants to be competitive, he insists.
Carpenters union President Doug McCarron was not in Chicago, but said in a telephone interview: "We want to work as close as we can with the building trades." He considers it ironic that BCTD will now uphold the AFL-CIO constitution, prohibiting membership in the building trades without federation affiliation. "They let me back in once before," he notes. "They have to make their own decision, [but] it should be in the best interest of the building trades, not in the best interest of the AFL-CIO," asserts McCarron.
Another concern is money. The teamsters and service employees unions collectively have more than 3 million members and paid $20 million in per capita dues annually to the AFL-CIO. The 530,000-member carpenters union paid approximately $1.5 million annually to BCTD in dues. The teamsters construction division, BCTDs smallest affiliate, paid about $95,400 each year in per capita. "Weve paid half of that so far this year," says a teamsters spokeswoman.
BCTD officials are pondering how to make up the shortfall in dues and address other concerns that could arise from the change in membership. BCTD President Edward C. Sullivan would not elaborate beyond a prepared statement that said the department "very much regrets the disaffiliation of the teamsters from the AFL-CIO. Our affiliated general presidents will be meeting prior to our own 67th convention in Boston to discuss our future course of action relative to the teamsters departure."
But other BCTD sources say the presidents will consider updating the procedures used to review per capita payments. There will be a mechanism instituted to ensure each union is paying the full amount reflected by its membership, says one general president. For now, there is no resolution to raise dues, but that might have to be considered in Boston, says one source. "We have to make sure we can perform the duties of the department," says Jim Williams, painters union president.
There also is concern about the impact the unions departure will have on central labor councils and state labor federations. The loss of the per capita dues represents between 20 and 40% of their annual budgets. "Thats a painful one for everyone," says Williams.
The AFL-CIO constitution does not allow unaffiliated unions to participate. But teamsters union President Jim Hoffa said he would encourage locals to continue paying dues to the CLCs. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka hinted that an accommodation might be made. "What role theyll be able to play will be discussed [by the AFL Executive Council] at a later date," he told reporters. He did not elaborate. Other sources say that the federation may direct funds to the CLCs or state organizations to offset shortfalls.
Convention attendees also were buzzing about whether any other union would withdraw from the AFL-CIO. The presidents of the food and commercial workers and the hotel and textile workers had board permission to leave. The laborers are the other wild card. OSullivan says, for now, hes staying.