The Fruits of Labor’s Split – v.1

By August 15, 2005Labor Unions

It’s been almost a month since the strains of “Solidarity Forever” (or was it, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do“?) faded from the Chicago air as the last delegates from the newly-split AFL-CIO left town. At the time everyone wondered, “What does it all mean?” For us in the business community we said at the time it didn’t mean much, and we’re sticking to our guns on that one. However, for labor, what it all means is starting to take shape, and it ain’t pretty.

In the midst of this whole imbroglio, we posted a thing called, “The Tyranny of Article XX“. Article XX is the section of the AFL-CIO Constitution that basically bars one union from raiding (or stealing) the members of another union. One of the things Sweeney had going for him was the fealty of weaker unions, who enjoyed the protection of Article XX against those like the SEIU who would dare to organize. Indeed, it proved an effective shield for him, enabling him to hang on, if barely — and weakly. Well, the first effects of the post-Article XX world are starting to be felt.

In California, there is a huge local of home health care workers, some 60,000 in all, many of whom are currently represented by AFSCME, one of the unions that stayed with Sweeney. This has been described by one insider as a “crummy” local that AFSCME should have addressed long ago. However, they let it drift and for their sins they have won what is for all intents and purposes a raid from the SEIU. California is an SEIU stronghold and they have filed a bunch of decertification petitions against this AFSCME-represented unit. AFSCME is spending sizable sums to fend off this raid and — until a month ago — was claiming sanctuary under Article XX and pleading its case before the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. However, once the SEIU and the rest of the Change to Win folks split, all hell broke loose.

Of course, the wrinkle in all this was that the SEIU and the Change to Win’ers are supposed to be focusing their efforts on organizing the un-organized, not on organizing those who are already organized by another union.

If this is a preview of what’s to come, things could get very ugly very quickly. Both the SEIU and AFSCME are behemoths in terms of resources and budgets. If they decide to slug it out over this huge California local, it will drain them both of valuable resources which at least the SEIU promised to spend elsewhere. Insiders expect that AFSCME President Gerry McEntee won’t take this sitting down, but will strike back with equal force, further draining labor’s coffers on an internecine war.

Ah, how proud John Sweeney must be over what his stubborn intransigence has wrought. We’re left to wonder: can the locusts, frogs and boils be far behind…?