AFL-CIO and Change to Win announce deal to preserve local labor unity

Though some details remain to be settled, the national AFL-CIO announced Nov. 16 it will begin issuing “Solidarity Charters” to locals whose unions disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO and joined the Change to Win federation.

The charters are designed to address one of the biggest problems caused by the split of Change to Win unions: The loss of leaders, activists and money in state and local labor movements. Charters let the locals fully participate in state feds and local central labor councils, and let those locals’ members seek and hold fed and CLC office.

There may be more charters, too. If AFL-CIO trade and industrial departments request them, Solidarity Charters with the same or similar requirements will allow CTW unions to re-join local or regional councils, national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney noted.

“We are ready to roll out the program and get about the work of building strong, united state and local labor movements,” Sweeney said.

Change to Win unions whose locals can seek the charters are the Teamsters, Service Employees, UNITE HERE, Carpenters and United Food and Commercial Workers. The two other CTW unions, the Laborers and the Farm Workers, have yet to leave the AFL-CIO, though the Laborers are expected to do so by the end of this year.  

The weekend after the announcement, the Executive Board of Service Employees International Union Local 503, Oregon Public Employees Union, voted to re-affiliate with the Oregon AFL-CIO under the terms of the charter.  

Their return will restore 63 percent of the membership that the state labor federation lost when SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers broke from the national AFL-CIO last July. SEIU Local 503 is the largest AFL-CIO union in the state, representing more than 34,000 members in state and local governments, home care, nursing homes and a variety of public service agencies.

Local 503 Executive Director Leslie Frane will retain her position as a vice president on the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board.

SEIU Local 49 is expected to follow suit, bringing an additional 5,000 members back into the state federation. Alice Dale, president of that local, also would retain her at-large seat on the Executive Board.

“We are pleased that SEIU is returning, and we welcome them back,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “The re-affiliation of SEIU is a shot over the bow of Oregon’s anti-working family forces, promising that the 2006 election cycle will be a movement back to a pro-worker agenda.”

Under Solidarity Charter guidelines, locals that seek and obtain a charter can participate fully in those state and local labor movements, including holding office, voting, and having full rights in the state and local organizations. The charters set up the expectation that CTW and AFL-CIO unions will work side-by-side on workplace, organizing, legislative and election campaigns, including contacting each other’s members for political mobilization.

The charters, to be issued directly by AFL-CIO headquarters, will be valid until Dec. 31, 2006, raising the prospect that unions will be able to work together much more effectively in statewide and congressional elections next November.

Sweeney released a “protocol” governing the charters, which he said covers all areas of agreement with Change to Win except a fee payment at the national level.

The protocol requires participating “charter” locals not to raid or support raiding on other locals, and to pay local affiliation dues, based on their membership size, that total at least what they paid to the state fed or central labor council before their international union left. Departure of the Change to Win union locals took large amounts of income — 40 percent or more in some cases — from state feds and central labor councils.

Change to Win Chair Anna Burger said “the agreement represents a step forward for workers. Change to Win has always encouraged our local affiliates to participate in state and local bodies, and the fact is they have continued to do so in the absence of an agreement at the national level. The end result is that Change to Win local unions who want to partner with the state and local level with state federations and central bodies will be equal partners with the AFL-CIO-affiliated locals.”

The charters represent a dramatic shift in the AFL-CIO position since four of the Change to Win unions — SEIU, the Teamsters, UNITE HERE and UFCW — began disaffiliating in July. The Carpenters left the AFL-CIO, but not its Building Trades Department, four years earlier.

In July, Sweeney issued a sharply- worded memo saying state and local labor movements had to expel locals of the disaffiliated unions. Since then, some state and local labor councils saw key leaders leave and monthly per capita payments shrink.

The agreement also reflects noticeable compromise from initial solidarity charter proposals. Early proposals did not allow Change to Win locals to hold an “executive office” in AFL-CIO organizations. They also would have required Change to Win locals to pay a 10 percent surcharge to offset research and other services the AFL-CIO provides to its state feds and central labor councils. And they had provisions that some Change to Win locals claimed would put them at odds with policies of their own internationals.

In October, Sweeney and Burger said the two labor federations agreed to handle the surcharge issue on the national level. Sweeney’s Nov. 16 statement said: “Although we have not yet reached a final agreement with the CTW unions on the payment mechanism to cover their share of administrative costs, no other differences remain that would prevent the Solidarity Charter program’s implementation.

“We are confident the disaffiliated national unions will make good on their commitment to make fair share cost-sharing payments to the national AFL-CIO on behalf of their reaffiliated local unions in the near future.”

The AFL-CIO began distributing Solidarity Charter application packets and encouraging central labor councils and state federations to contact CTW locals. But the national leadership of at least one union — UFCW — sent a memo to regional directors asking them to hold off seeking charters until the deal is complete. And Carpenters national leadership has reportedly balked at the idea of making payments to the national AFL-CIO; that might prevent its locals from rejoining, under the accord.

UNITE HERE Local 9 was unavailable for comment, but Chamberlain said he thinks that union, too, will rejoin; it never stopped sending its per- capita checks, and UNITE HERE’s national leadership has urged local affiliates to stay in local AFL-CIO bodies.

As for UFCW Local 555, Oregon’s largest private-sector union, President Gene Pronovost and the AFL-CIO’s Chamberlain say re-affiliation will take some finessing. With the dues it would have sent to the Oregon AFL-CIO, Local 555 hired State Representative Brad Witt, a former UFCW staff rep who was until recently the full-time secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO. At its September biennial convention, the Oregon AFL-CIO made the secretary-treasurer’s post a non-salaried position as a way to cope with the financial hit of the CTW departures.

Pronovost said Local 555 also plans to rejoin any local central labor councils it previously belonged to.

The Teamsters were not affiliated with the Oregon AFL-CIO prior to the split. Chamberlain said he planned to approach them anyway, as well as the Carpenters.

(Editor’s Note: The St. Paul Union Advocate and Press Associates Inc. contributed to this report.)

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