Staying Power. Sullivan (left) and Maloney have to deal with the departure of two unions. unions gon. (Photo courtesy of the BCTD/Harry Brett)

For the second time in five years, Edward C. Sullivan and Joseph Maloney have been elected president and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Dept. Their first election, in July 2000, was marked by internal strife following the first change in department leadership in nearly 30 years.

Five years later, as BCTD marks its 67th convention in Boston, the department again faces challenges with the loss of two of its 15 member unions.

There were early predictions following the 2000 election that the two top officials would not last the entirety of their five-year term. Or, if they did, they would not be reelected. Barely after that election was finalized, opponents were lining up in the wings.

What a difference five years makes. The mood in the convention hall on election morning Aug. 9 resembled a presidential nominating convention. Supporters donned political buttons proclaiming Sullivan and Maloney "the right team at the right time." Others wore styrofoam boaters trimmed in red, white and blue ribbon instructing union delegates to "elect Sullivan/Maloney." While some officials privately may not fully endorse the leadership team, there were no other candidates, and both leaders were enthusiastically reelected by acclamation.

In seconding the nomination of Sullivan, Edwin Hill, president of the electrical workers’ union told the 206 voting delegates: "There are some who mock leaders who have the patience and internal fortitude to find common ground and build consensus....Ed Sullivan has the strength of character and the soundness of judgment that it will take to lead this department in the future."

Sullivan again has his work cut out for him. Since the teamsters’ union withdrew from the AFL-CIO last month and the carpenters’ union confirmed that it would not reaffiliate, there are two fewer unions in the BCTD. The AFL-CIO constitution prohibits any unaffiliated union from participating in department activities or in local labor organizations such as building trades councils.

Sullivan noted that several general presidents worked unsuccessfully behind the scenes before and during the AFL-CIO convention to reach a compromise and preserve solidarity. "Now we are left to deal with the resulting changes...and we will," Sullivan promised. Besides the threat of jurisdictional disputes and work site disruptions, there will be fewer dues dollars flowing into BCTD coffers. The 530,000-member carpenters’ union paid about $1.5 million annually and the teamsters $94,400 (ENR 8/1 p. 12).

Sullivan regrets the decision by the leaders of the teamsters and the carpenters, but says that because of the "necessary interrelationship among the building trades, we will have to continue to work together to ensure that our differences do not disrupt jobsites and that the important progress we have made with contractors and owners will continue."

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney also told delegates that the federation’s Executive Council will pursue ways to include local members of disaffiliated unions in central labor councils and state federations. One proposal being considered would allow "solidarity charters" for local unions so they could continue to participate in local labor councils.

The trades’ delegates approved a resolution that gives the governing board of presidents the authority to seek remedies–either those proposed by the AFL-CIO or new ones–to keep the union sector intact. The general board of presidents will do "whatever it takes not to disrupt the industry," vows Maloney.

Sullivan admits there could be a financial impact, ironically coming after five years of fiscal belt tightening to straighten out the "financial crisis" the team inherited. According to the convention’s financial report, BCTD in 2000 "was losing approximately $200,000 per month." Sullivan says deep cuts were made and operating divisions were restructured.

"We will have to take a look at the financial impact [of the disaffiliation] and make some hard decisions," Sullivan says. With that in mind, delegates approved two other resolutions. One is to amend the BCTD constitution to require that an annual budget be prepared each May, including a recommendation for any change in the per capita tax, which currently is 53 per member, per month. The other establishes an audit committee to ensure each union pays per capita that accurately reflects its membership.