Two More Blasts of Bad News for the AFL-CIO

By February 16, 2006Labor Unions

If you’re John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO, you gotta kinda figure you’re used to bad days. But for Sweeney & Co., it just seems to get worse. First they endured a huge split, ultimately losing almost half their members. Then, as a result, they had to lay off a bunch of their staff. On Monday of this week, they awoke to this full-page ad from, the first salvo in what appears to be the beginning of a longer battle. In the last 24 hours, they got two more blasts of bad news.

Yesterday two more unions announced they were pulling out of the Federation’s Building and Construction Trades Department — the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) and the International Union of Operating Engineers, two powerhouse unions in the construction trades, with a combined membership of almost 1.5 million. You may recall that Terence O’Sullivan, President of the Laborers, was one of the early Sweeney opponents, but decided at the time of the split to remain in the AFL for the moment, hoping against hope that things might change. Remember, in what we called “the tyranny of Article XX“, unions within the AFL-CIO are protected from having their members raided (i.e., stolen) by other AFL unions by Article XX of the AFL-CIO Constitution. By leaving, the unions lose this protection, but they also lose the restriction on raiding other AFL unions. That’s why the weaker unions tended to stay in the AFL-CIO while the stronger ones were happy to leave Brother Sweeney on the sinking ship. This brings a total of about 7 million unionized workers outside of the AFL-CIO. These latest two quit because — stop us if you’ve heard this one — the AFL was doing nothing to stem the decline in organizing. How could they? They’re busy putting all their members’ money down the political rathole. It’s all about priorities.

The other bit of bad news they awoke to today: Another broadside from in the form of yet another full-page ad — this one in the LA Times. This one highlights labor’s awkward anti-democracy stance when it comes to union elections. They’re supporting a system where the union can win recognition based not on an election but on a majority of cards signed by workers saying they want a union. These cards can be collected in the most intimidating and coercive face-to-face way. Since unions are losing far more elections than they’re winning these days, they want to lower the bar. Heck, why not have all elections like that? Why have secret ballots at all, right? is on to something here. This is yet another losing issue for the labor movement.

So if you see John Sweeney, give the guy a hug. He’s had another bad week.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Pat Cleary says:

    The post says they disaffiliated from the Building Trades Dept. The NYT piece says the Laborers will leave the AFL and says that combined the Laborers and Operating Engineers have 1.1 million members.

    I said the AFL-CIO lost “almost” half their members. I’ll concede that it was “only” 40%. I stand corrected, but not by much. If the Laborers leave, it’s half.

    Also, let’s see how this “no raiding” stuff works out. Art XX has a structure and enforcement. Not sure how these “no raid” agreements will be honored. The SEIU and AFSCME were in a big fray in Calif. Let’s see how it all plays out, and see who’s right in the end, OK?

  • louise michel says:

    Another mistake–neither the Operating Engineers or LIUNA have left the AFL-CIO. They’ve left the Building Trades Council, not the Federation. LIUNA has been saying it might leave the Federation for months, without doing so.

    So, all the bluster here about Article XX and raiding is misdirected. Both LIUNA and the Operating Engineers are still honoring the no-raiding terms of the Federation’s Constitution, because they’re Federation members, as are the disaffilated CTW unions that have signed Solidarity Charters.

  • You're the Mistake Man says:

    I know you’re probably not interested in accuracy, but your AFL post was FILLED with mistakes. I know this is par for the course for you, but let me help you out:

    The split didn’t cause the AFL to lose half of its members (it went from 13 to 9 million)

    LUINA and the IUOE have about 650,000 members, not 1.5 million.

    Your point about leaving the Federation and raiding is wrong – SEIU, the Teamsters and others have all signed no-raiding agreements with unions within the Federation.

    Unions are WINNING more elections than they’re losing – they currently win more than half of their elections.

    Keep making it up as you go along – you’re always good for a laugh or two.