Carpenters Union pulls out of AFL-CIO

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The 500,000-member United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners announced March 29 that it was disaffiliating with the national AFL-CIO because of differences in the direction of the labor movement.

The withdrawal makes the Carpenters an independent union, similar to that of the National Education Association and the California Nurses Association.

In a letter to national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Carpenters President Douglas McCarron said: "The AFL-CIO continues to operate under the rules and procedures of an era that passed years ago, while the industries that employ our members change from day to day.

"The union has reorganized in the last few years to shift resources to organizing and had hoped the AFL-CIO would make similar changes. After five years, I have seen nothing to indicate the AFL-CIO is seriously considering changes that would cure these problems, nor do I see any realistic chance that an investment of more time or resources by the UBC will alter those facts."

On March 27, Sweeney and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka met with the Carpenters Executive Board in Las Vegas in a final attempt to persuade them to stay, but the eight-member board voted unanimously to withdraw.

Sweeney said in a statement that disaffiliation would be a loss for the Carpenters Union and the labor movement.

Bruce Dennis, president of Portland-based Carpenters Local 247 and president of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said his local was against the withdrawal.

"This is something that has developed because of a difference of opinion at the national level," he said, adding that his local union had not planned to end its affiliation with the Northwest Oregon Labor Council or the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council.

"I guess we'll have to wait and see what comes down from the international," he said.

In a prepared statement, Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), said, "A number of members of the Carpenters Unions have expressed to us their regret about the disaffiliation decision, and that they will no longer be able to participate in the WSLC. We hope that those members will work within their union to encourage negotiation and resolution of jurisdictional disputes rather than pitting union brothers and sisters against each other."

According to the AFL-CIO constitution, members of unaffiliated unions may not serve on Executive Boards or on standing committees of any state labor federation, central labor council, building trades council, metal trades council or other AFL-CIO organization.

"This decision [to disaffiliate] hits Oregon and Washington especially hard because of the large number of construction and industrial carpenters in our states," said Tim Nesbitt, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. "If this decision stands, we will lose not only the construction Carpenter locals, but the Western Council of Industrial Workers (WCIW) locals and the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW)."

Other Carpenters Union affiliates include Exterior and Interior Specialists Local 2154, Millwrights and Machinery Erectors Local 711, Columbia River Log Scalers Local 2197, and Pile Drivers, Divers and Shipwrights Local 2416.

Bender said the Carpenters Union and its affiliated AWPPW and WCIW have more representatives on WSLC's Executive Board than any other single international union.

Effective immediately, he said, five of the 20 vice presidents of the WSLC may no longer serve. They are Ron Forest, 1st District (King County); Bill Little, WCIW, 3rd District (Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Skamania, Thurston and Wahkiakum counties); Jim Neeley, WCIW, 3rd District; Bob Watrous, AWPPW, 3rd District, and Rocky Marshall, 4th District (Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Whitman counties).

In Oregon, AFL-CIO Executive Board members that must resign are Pat Davis, at-large; Mike Moran, WCIW, District 10 (Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties), and Roger Bissonnette, District 7 (Coos, Curry and Douglas counties).

"It couldn't come at a worse time," Nesbitt said. "Now, more than ever, we need more engagement, more participation and a greater willingness to work together to overcome the political attacks on working families at the national and state levels and to meet the challenges of organizing more workers in a rapidly changing economy."

But Nesbitt said the state labor federation would continue "to find ways to work together for common purposes, just as we do with other unions that are not part of the AFL-CIO."

Sweeney, in his response, wrote: "The Carpenters Union is a great union that is providing leadership at many levels to our movement and to our collective efforts to improve the lives of working men and women. The labor movement as a whole is also providing support and assistance to the Carpenters."

Sweeney has asked the union to reconsider its decision and has offered to continue meeting with its officials.

April 6, 2001 issue

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