Change to Win objects to AFL-CIO solidarity rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Change to Win unions under Solidarity Charters with AFL-CIO state and local bodies suspended their per-capita tax payments May 1 in a dispute over eligibility rules for new charter applications.

The action forced the Oregon AFL-CIO to call an emergency meeting May 1, where its General Executive Board voted to increase per-capita taxes by 20 cents a member per month starting in September, when a 20-cent-per-member campaign assessment expires.

“This action allows us to maintain funding for our 2006 political program and retain our field representative, political organizer and secretary,” said President Tom Chamberlain.

More than 1,600 Solidarity Charters have been issued nationwide since the Change to Win labor federation was formed last September following the July departure of the Service Employees, United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters and UNITE HERE from the national AFL-CIO.

In January, the United Farm Workers left the AFL-CIO to join Change to Win, and the Laborers Union says it’s only a matter of time before it splits from the AFL-CIO. The Laborers already belong to Change to Win, as does the Carpenters Union. [The Carpenters disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO more than four years ago.]

The breakup caused financial hardship for most AFL-CIO labor federations and central labor councils. [The Oregon AFL-CIO says 35 percent of its budget was derived from Change to Win locals.]

With layoffs and closures looming, top union officials from both federations got together and devised Solidarity Charters — one-year pacts that would allow Change to Win locals to rejoin state federations and/or central labor councils, with full voting and election rights — but without having to belong to the national AFL-CIO.

A conflict developed in January 2006 when national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced a May 1 deadline to apply for the charters because, he said, federal election rules require it for mobilizing members on the campaign trail this fall. Besides finances, political cooperation among AFL-CIO and CTW unions was another key reason for the creation of the Solidarity Charters.

Sweeney also said the charter program applied to only five unions: UFCW, Teamsters, SEIU, Carpenters and UNITE HERE.

“Eligibility for Solidarity Charters is limited to locals of these unions. Locals of the Farm Workers or of other unions not affiliated with the national AFL-CIO are not eligible,” he said.

Change to Win cried foul, saying the AFL-CIO reneged on its agreement to allow all unions to apply for Solidarity Charters.

“It is ludicrous to think that Change to Win would have entered an agreement on the Solidarity Charter program that would exclude any of our affiliates,” CTW Chairwoman Anna Burger wrote in a memo to all AFL-CIO organizations.

Burger said CTW unions would suspend per-capita payments if Sweeney didn’t rescind the eligibility rules.

Oregon’s largest central labor council, the Portland-based Northwest Oregon Labor Council, passed a resolution in March opposing the restrictions. The labor council sent a letter to Sweeny asking that he rescind the restrictions.

In response to Burger’s memo, Sweeney told AFL-CIO union officials he was “determined to resolve the outstanding issues regarding Solidarity Charters. One of those issues, he said, includes payment of a national “fair share solidarity fee” by the disaffiliated unions. “Misrepresentations and reckless threats to hold the state federations and central labor councils financially hostage do not advance our goal of unity and strength,” Sweeney wrote.

In March, Associated Press reported that the five breakaway unions had paid the AFL-CIO $9.9 million in unpaid per-capita taxes prior to their disaffiliation. All of the unions except SEIU settled up in early January, with UFCW paying $3.7 million, the Teamsters paying $2.8 million and UNITE HERE paying $180,000.

The AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit against SEIU seeking $10 million in back per capita taxes. In March, the sides settled on a payment of $3.9 million.

Talk of a Third Labor Federation

As the May 1 deadline neared, several newspapers reported an exchange of letters between Sweeney and Burger in which Burger proposed creating a third labor federation — the “Alliance for Worker Justice.”

In an April 26 statement, Burger said she had not proposed a third federation, but rather “a structure that would enable all organizations supporting a workers’ rights movement — the AFL-CIO, Change To Win, and organizations not affiliated with either — to work together on issues of common concern.

“It would enable us to bring the best of all of our organizations together at critical times. It also recognizes our differences and would enable us to implement our different strategies,” she added.

Burger said the new structure CTW seeks “deals with the reality that the Solidarity Charter program is legally and structurally insufficient to developing true permanent national and local cooperation between Change To Win, the AFL-CIO, and other non-aligned labor organizations.”

Sweeney rejected CTW’s new structure idea. “The last thing we can imagine doing less than a year after (the disaffiliation) is investing time and resources into co-founding yet a third labor federation, with all the bureaucracy, expense and additional staffing that would entail,” he said.

Oregon AFL-CIO President Chamberlain said that despite the setback at the national level, “we’ll continue working with Change to Win unions in areas of common interest.”

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