John J. Sweeney

As the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Dept. continues to grapple with ways to ease the uncertainty – and keep jobsites free from disruption – of how to deal with the loss of the carpenters and the teamsters, the labor federation has given its first glimpse of an alternative plan that would allow local unions to remain active in building trades councils, central labor councils and state federations.

The action comes just two weeks after three large unions – the service employees, teamsters and food and commercial workers – announced their withdrawal from the AFL-CIO. The carpenters disaffiliated from the federation in 2001. The AFL-CIO constitution prohibits unions that are not a members from participating in federation departments or local and state affiliates.

But with local members from those four unions integral to regional activities, not to mention finances, membership expressed concern at the July 25 AFL-CIO convention in Chicago and at the Aug. 9 BCTD convention in Boston about the impact of the disaffiliation. Delegates at each meeting discussed the need for creative solutions to support grassroots labor activities, and in the case of construction, keep workers from all trades harmoniously on the jobsite.

“It’s not these locals’ fault that their national unions left,” AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said Aug. 11. “They shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of a decision by their leadership,” he added.

Sweeney is proposing a method that would allow local participation from those four unions: solidarity charters. This mechanism would allow local unions of the disaffiliated international unions to continue involvement in central labor councils, state federations and building trades councils.

According to Sweeney’s plan, which must be approved by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, the locals can retain the same level of membership they had before their union left the AFL-CIO, or sign up at the average membership level for that city or state, whichever is higher. They will also pay a 10% solidarity fee to the labor council or state federation to help offset the cost of services and mobilization systems provided by the national AFL-CIO and supported by its affiliated unions. The solidarity fee will go into the Solidarity Fund established at the convention that help support local bodies affected by the unions’ decision to leave the federation. The unions remaining in the AFL-CIO agreed to a four-cent dues increase to offset the loss of dues from the disaffiliated unions.

Locals who receive solidarity charters will be required to honor basic principles of solidarity. They will agree not to raid other unions, participate fully in the local political mobilization efforts, and support other workers in their area who are on strike, organizing, or in other struggles. Unions will have the same voting rights as other locals, but members of unions with a solidarity charter are prohibited from holding top offices. Individuals from those unions will be allowed to serve out the remainder of their term.

The Executive Council is expected to finish deciding whether to approve the solidarity charters within the next several days. If the plan is adopted, they could become effective in September, says the AFL-CIO.

Before seeing details of the solidarity charter proposal, building trades officials were cautious. Depending on how those charters will impact the construction industry, the BCTD general board of presidents might vote to support them, or they might seek alternatives that more closely align with the needs of the industry. “The Presidents are clear. They will do whatever it takes to not disrupt the industry,” asserts BCTD Secretary-Treasurer Joe Maloney.

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