(Photo by Michael Goodman for ENR)

The Change to Win Coalition, formed by seven unions unhappy with AFL-CIO leadership, has pledged to rebuild the labor movement one member at a time. The presidents of those unions vow to focus their energy on organizing the millions of U.S. workers that currently do not belong to a labor union.

The Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) bolted the AFL-CIO on the opening day of its constitutional convention in Chicago July 25.
What will differentiate the organizing strategies of the Change to Win Coalition from the AFL-CIO?

There are several clues. The union leaders are vocally concerned about the thousands of domestic jobs being shipped overseas and how workers they represent can compete in the global economy.

Andrew L. Stern, president of the 1.8-million-member SEIU, noted construction is not one of those sectors where jobs can be outsourced. "It’s hard to take a truck driver, a construction worker or a health-care worker’s job out of the country," Stern says.
What does that mean for future organizing in the construction industry?

The Change to Win unions promise "joint efforts" in organizing that will be "revolutionary." Does this mean that the three coalition unions with ties to construction – carpenters, laborers and teamsters – will seek to organize across trades? Will there be a mini construction department within the coalition?

Laborers’ President Terence M. O’Sullivan says that is not the intent. But in a July 26 meeting with reporters, O’Sullivan says new ways to run organizing campaigns have to be developed. Smaller unions within the coalition will be able to draw on the strengths and resources of the SEIU and the teamsters in launching national organizing campaigns. Those unions have large staffs with experience on national campaigns, he points out. "There is great potential to use their expertise to our benefit," O’Sullivan adds.

There is a growing number of construction contractors with multinational owners, but the industry is still negotiating locally, he says. O’Sullivan says the coalition members do not plan to go after other crafts, but he does expect a program to recruit more national contractors.

Rather than going after workers in other crafts, O’Sullivan says he plans to target the 6 million construction laborers that are not organized. The laborers are not teaming up with the carpenters or anyone else to organize other craftworkers, he maintains.
Carpenters’ union president Douglas J. McCarron says the coalition members’ organizing directors are putting a plan together (the carpenters withdrew from the AFL-CIO in 2001). He says he has no plans for so-called "wall-to-wall" or vertical organizing. "I’d just as soon get along with the building trades," he says. "I don’t see anything different than what was there before," McCarron adds, noting that it has been almost five years since the carpenters left the AFL-CIO.

With all of the per capita dues he will save by not being a member of the AFL-CIO and its Building and Construction Trades Dept., McCarron says those resources will be devoted to organizing and training. "We want the highest skilled people," he says. "It’s going into training and organizing, helping the lives of working carpenters."

The per capita that the coalition unions will pay to fund Change to Win has not yet been determined. The coalition plans its founding convention in September, where many of these issues will be decided. But Teamsters’ President Jim Hoffa pledged to contribute half of the $10 million in annual dues his union previously paid to the AFL-CIO.

Clearly, the coalition is taking union organizing into unexplored territory.