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Four Unions to Shun AFL-CIO Conference


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Four of the biggest unions in the AFL-CIO are boycotting the organization's convention in Chicago, and their leaders are hinting that they may leave the labor federation altogether. The move comes as the labor group celebrates its 50th anniversary. NPR's Frank Langfitt is on the line from Chicago.

Hi there, Frank.


Hi, Jacki.

LYDEN: So, Frank, flesh out who these unions are and why they're so unhappy and ready to leave.

LANGFITT: Well, the AFL-CIO, of course, is labor's umbrella group, and these are very significant unions. They have about a third of the AFL-CIO's total membership, which is 13 million. They include the service workers union, which is--they've got 1.7 million members; the Teamsters; the Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE, which represents garment and hotel workers. They're really upset because they feel that the labor movement is on a slide to irrelevancy, and they want to see what they consider to be bold changes. One of their suggestions--or one of their demands, really--is that the AFL-CIO put half of its budget into organizing workers because they need more members. And, of course, AFL-CIO is willing to spend more on that but not as much as this group wants.

LYDEN: So what has been the reaction, other than some recalcitrants evidently, and, you know, is the mood sort of deepening, as this convention takes place tomorrow?

LANGFITT: Well, I think people in the AFL-CIO are bitter. I was talking to one person today who said, you know, that she was beyond bitter. And I think that they're embarrassed as well. This is coming on the eve of the convention; it's the 50th anniversary. And there's threats that as soon as tomorrow some of these unions will pull out of the federation altogether. And it seems a little bit of a kick in the shins to John Sweeney; he's the president, and he's running again for another four-year term. And one of the things these unions, these dissidents, have been asking for is for John Sweeney to step aside.

LYDEN: What would it mean to the greater organization if these groups left? You said it's about a third of the membership; that sounds like a lot.

LANGFITT: Well, it would be the biggest split since the 1930s, and it would be certainly a huge blow in terms of dues. The AFL-CIO would lose many millions of dollars in dues. And I think it could also hurt the political organizing effort because even though both sides say they'll continue to work together to elect candidates who are supportive of their views, there's a fair bit of bad feeling here. And this new group--they call themselves the Coalition to Win--they're planning on meeting tomorrow to put together their own sort of parallel structure and parallel organization. So it--this is a really difficult time for the AFL-CIO.

LYDEN: Well, thanks very much for joining us.

NPR's Frank Langfitt--he joined us from Chicago.

Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.