Oregon AFL-CIO considers restructuring in wake of breakup

TANGENT, Ore. — Faced with a 39 percent budget cut due to last month’s disaffiliation by the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Oregon AFL-CIO General Board met Aug. 5 to find ways to restructure the labor federation.

“We will take the cards left in our deck and reshuffle — back to square one,” said President Tim Nesbitt.

The Service Employees, UFCW and the Teamsters left the AFL-CIO at the national level last month to form the Change to Win Coalition. Under the AFL-CIO constitution, those unions are no longer eligible to affiliate at the state or local levels. SEIU locals affiliated with the Oregon AFL-CIO paid per capita dues on 39,000 members and UFCW Local 555 paid on 15,650 members. The Teamsters were not affiliated.

At the national AFL-CIO convention last month in Chicago, delegates approved a 4 cent per member increase in the monthly per capita tax paid by each international union. The money will be put into a special fund to cover the financial distress that most state federations and central labor councils are facing. But how much and when that money will be disbursed is not known.

At the outset of the Oregon AFL-CIO meeting, Nesbitt declared two vice president positions and three at-large Executive Board seats vacant. The vice president posts were held by Gene Pronovost, president of UFCW Local 555, and Leslie Frane, executive director of SEIU Local 503, Oregon Public Employees Union. The at-large seats were held by Alice Dale, president of SEIU Local 49, Jeff Anderson, a business representative of UFCW Local 555, and Debbie Sluyter, former executive secretary-treasurer of Office and Professional Employees Local 11.

Nominations for the vacant posts will be held at the next Executive Board and General Board meeting Friday, Sept. 23, in Portland. At that time, board members also will make more concrete decisions on how the restructuring will look.

Several proposals were submitted by Nesbitt, himself a member of SEIU. Nesbitt joined the National Writers Union, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers, to remain eligible for his post. Secretary-Treasurer Brad Witt, a longtime member of UFCW Local 555, also had to change unions to maintain his position. He joined the Machinists-Woodworkers.

One option presented to the board was to make the secretary-treasurer a non-paid position. That will require a change in the constitution, which likely will take place at the Oregon AFL-CIO Convention Oct. 16-18 in Portland.

Other options include selling the AFL-CIO building at 2110 State Street, Salem, renting the upstairs of the building, increasing the per capita tax, and cutting staff. One scenario would maintain a full-time paid president, a field representative, one secretary and a part-time bookkeeper. That, according to Nesbitt, would free up resources for outside political coalitions (with the breakaway unions and others) that could ramp up staff when needed.

The General Board authorized discussions with the breakaway unions and with other non-AFL-CIO unions to explore the structure and financing of such a coalition.

The board voted to eliminate the labor federation’s campaign director and organizing coordinator positions, one secretarial job, to cut the communications director position to half-time, to scale back an upcoming organizing conference to a half-day meeting, and to discontinue complimentary mailings of its newsletters.

The board also approved a motion to not allow non-affiliated unions space at the AFL-CIO booth at the Oregon State Fair in Salem. In the past, unions affiliated with the state labor federation staff the booth with volunteer members, with each union taking a different day(s) or shift(s).

At the Aug. 4 meeting, representatives from UFCW and SEIU told the General Board their unions intend to maintain their working relationship with the AFL-CIO.

“We want to be a full player in the House of Labor,” said Anderson of Local 555 and a former Executive Board member. “We look forward to a new relationship.”

Rich Peppers of SEIU Local 503, paraphrasing earlier remarks by Nesbitt, said “Oregon still has the same number of union members, we still have the same issues at the state and local levels. We stand ready and willing to have a full and cooperative relationship with all the unions.”

“We’ll have a different relationship from here on out (with the breakaway unions),” Nesbitt said, “But we want to have a relationship.”

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