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 UnionFacts.com, 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 UnionFacts.com 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? UnionFacts.com 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.
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