At a time when the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Dept. is reeling from dissension, BCTD leadership has restored a sense of unity within its ranks by announcing April 3 that the teamsters would return to the organization after bolting in 2005.
BCTD President Edward Sullivan told delegates at the group’s 2006 legislative conference in Washington, D.C., that BCTD and the teamsters had entered into a “solidarity” pact. Under its terms, the union will be allowed to participate in the department as partners at all levels and teamster President James Hoffa will have a voice on BCTD’s Governing Boards of Presidents, but no vote.
The deal comes nearly a month after the laborers’ and operating engineers’ unions left BCTD to form a new group along with the carpenters—the National Construction Alliance (ENR 2/27 p. 10). The carpenters union left BCTD and the AFL-CIO nearly five years ago and talks are under way with other unions unhappy with the AFL-CIO, BCTD and declining membership.
Sullivan assured more than 2,000 union leaders that serious talks are being held with disaffiliated unions to help maintain well-functioning state, provincial and local councils. “Contrary to what some might want you to believe, the sky is not falling,” Sullivan said. “The horizon looks very promising.”
Solidarity agreements are increasing for the AFL-CIO. President John Sweeney said his organization has issued more than 1,500 solidarity charters to keep members of disassociated unions in the fold. “It’s a solid indication that the rank-and-file union members and leaders across our country want to be inside and not outside the AFL-CIO,” he said.
While such pacts may build bridges with members, bringing the union leaders back in remains a challenge. Joe Hunt, president of the ironworkers’ union, said concerns about BCTD leadership and its organization remain a sticking point among the quarreling union heads. “I don’t anticipate any of the three unions to come back until there is some reorganization,” he said. “If the loss of per-capita [dues] means we’re not going to be able to function as the building trades, then all the general presidents will have to reevaluate what we’re going to do next.”
Jim Williams, president of the painters’ union, said BCTD would continue to reach out to the unions, but not give in. “We’ll have to tighten our belts and work on a resolution to bring them back, but we’ll move forward with the agenda we have,” he said.
Despite the fued among union leaders, many local activities are continuing as usual. Samuel Davis, a laborers’ member and business manager of the Parkersburg-Marietta Building and Construction Trades Council, which serves nearly 10,000 workers in Ohio and West Virginia, said union members in the field remain united. “Someday, these guys inside the Beltway will kiss and make up,” he said. “But if we bust things up back home, it will be a lot harder for us to put the pieces back together.”
Attendees also focused their efforts on key political issues. Democratic and Republican politicians spoke on hot-button issues such as pension reform, health care, infrastructure funding and immigration. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was jeered when he supported the need for a guest worker plan, noting, “I don’t think I have to tell you there are jobs that Americans will not do.”