Ed Sullivan

Ed Sullivan knows a thing or two about bringing about change. As a member of elevator constructors Local 4 in Boston some years back, Sullivan and his fellow craftsmen thought they had fresh ideas to make the International Union of Elevator Constructors “more responsive, more democratic and more efficient with the members’ hard-earned dues.”

On Aug. 9, as Sullivan opened the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept.’s 67th convention as department president, he told the 206 trades delegates, “I joined together with a handful of determined elevator constructors….and together we spent years on our own time and with our own money trying to get support for our new ideas. Although we achieved some of our goals at the IUEC convention, we fell short of electing the leadership team we wanted.” He remembers: “We were disappointed, but not deterred. We didn’t walk away because we didn’t get our way.”

Sullivan told this personal story in his keynote address to the BCTD convention to compare present day challenges faced by the building trades and the labor federation.

Unhappy with the leadership of AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, seven unions, including three with ties to construction, formed the Change to Win Coalition on June 15. Four of those unions – representing service employees, teamsters, food and commercial workers and hotel and textile workers – boycotted the AFL-CIO convention in July. The service employees, teamsters and food and commercial workers later withdrew from the federation. The hotel and textile workers’ union is expected to follow. A fourth coalition member, the carpenters’ union, withdrew from the AFL-CIO in 2001.

Sherie Winston

The other two coalition members, the laborers and the farm workers, say for now they plan to remain in the AFL-CIO.

“The disafilliation of unions from the AFL-CIO is of deep concern to all of us,” Sullivan maintains. “However, no individual union or group of unions can be allowed to dictate which rules will or will not apply to them.”

In contrast, Sullivan notes that he and his elevator constructor supporters, despite their election loss years ago, “were more committed than ever to stay the course, to build more support for our new ideas from the bottom up and the inside out.”

With a zing directed at the new coalition leaders, Sullivan said: “Change was accomplished without threats or extortion, without careening egos or transparent grabs for power or celebrity. We sold truthful ideas, not personal agendas. So when we achieved victory at the next convention, it rightfully belonged to every member in every local, and our whole union was stronger for it.”

The moniker Sullivan and his elevator constructors’ chose to push their agenda? It was known as the Campaign for Change.

“Has a ring to it, doesn’t it?” Sullivan asked the delegates just minutes before he was elected to a second five-year term as BCTD general president.

(Photo top by Guy Lawrence, bottom by Michael Goodman for ENR)

Related Links:
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New Labor Coalition Will Shape Future Construction Organizing ,
Split AFL-CIO Reelects Sweeney,
AFL-CIO in Turmoil As Big Unions Bolt,
Teamsters Withdrawal From AFL-CIO Means Building Trades Ouster ,