The AFL-CIO is asking for a lot of money from the local unions that want to continue participating in central labor bodies, even though the national union they belong to disaffiliated from the labor federation.

AFL-CIO leaders are now considering a proposal to create "Solidarity Charters" for those local unions. If this plan goes forward local unions that receive these new charters would be required to pay the same dues on a per capita basis that it made to the central labor council, district building trades council or state labor federation when its parent was affiliated with the AFL-CIO. But now, in addition to these regular payments, the labor federation is requiring a "solidarity fee," calculated at 10% of a local union’s per capita tax payments, with a minimum of five cents per member, per month.

That’s a lot of dues money.

And what do these unions get for their cash? Although members would continue to have the same voting and participation rights as all other members, the AFL-CIO is explicit: No individual whose union is a member of the central labor body through a solidarity charter is allowed to run for or hold executive office.

That restriction could be a deal breaker. "Will they pay the premium if they can’t hold office," asks one labor source.

Leaders from 30 AFL-CIO state and local organizations sent a letter Aug. 17 to all unions in the AFL-CIO and to the seven unions in the Change to Win Coalition, including the four that disaffiliated from the labor federation—the carpenters, teamsters, service employees and food and commercial workers. The disaffiliation also forced the carpenters and the teamsters out of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept and its district building trades councils.

The state and local leaders ask for "good-faith efforts of all unions to re-establish the unity of our labor movement at the state and local level." They claim that the solidarity charter proposal provides "the basis for meeting that goal." The leaders maintain that continued participation of the disaffiliated unions "is as unprecedented as it is important."

But some fine-tuning is needed. While praising the concept of solidarity charters, the labor leaders note that there have been objections "to some of the details" of the proposal, and those "may deserve further consideration." Another complaint is that the charters would expire at the end of 2006.

"We continue to hear from all of our unions the desire to keep us stronger together at the local level," write the 30 presidents and other top officials from state AFL-CIOs, including officials in Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, Utah, Hawaii, North Carolina, Montana, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Delaware and Colorado

"Where there is that will, there has to be a way for us to do so—just as there needs to be a way to re-unify the labor movement at the national level," the letter continues.

Officials from BCTD, the teamsters and carpenters declined comment.

One of those unions referred a reporter to Aug. 11 comments from the head of the Change to Win coalition, Anna Burger.

In that statement, Burger stressed the coalition unions have always intended that their affiliates participate in central labor councils and state federations. But Burger argues that the AFL’s solidarity charter proposal "includes fine-print poison pill provisions" that appear to be responsive to the desire for local unity without actually helping to make that unity possible.

BCTD President Edward C. Sullivan, a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council who will vote on the solidarity proposal, has yet to meet with the presidents of the department’s 13 unions to determine support for the plan. At the BCTD convention Aug. 9-10 top leaders were insisting that if the solidarity plan did not address the specific needs of the construction industry, they would propose an as yet unidentified alternative. "We will devise our own mechanisms" to protect the construction industry, Sullivan told the BCTD delegates.

Among officials’ top concerns is what impact the disaffiliation will have on project labor agreements. It’s important to have all of the trades on a PLA, says Edward Malloy, president of the greater New York City Building and Construction Trades Council.

Some officials claim all of the discussions, including the "yelling and screaming" in closed-door meetings is just "lip service" and that nothing will be done. There remain no answers, for now, about how the new rules will be enforced and what penalty there will be for non-compliance. And, despite numerous pledges that there will be no disruptions on jobsites and no raiding of one union’s workers by another, no mechanism to address such actions by non-affiliated unions has been identified.

"It’s a frustrating situation," says one northeastern building trades council officer.

ill they pay?