July 26, 2005--The leaders of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees' International Union, two unions in the Change to Win Coalition, announced their disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO yesterday. The announcement came on the first day of the annual AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention in Chicago.
"We have been disappointed that we have seen over the last 10 years a decline in membership, a decline in density," said Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, referring to a decrease in unionized workers from a third to 8% in the private sector. He said that after a number of proposed reforms on AFL-CIO structure and funding usage were rejected, the Teamsters executive board unanimously voted to disaffiliate.
The largest AFL-CIO union and one of the fastest-growing unions in the world with 1.8 million members, the SEIU plans to continue growth and expand its organizing efforts. "Our world has changed. Our economy has changed. Employers have changed. And that is why the SEIU has changed as well," said SEIU General President Andrew Stern. Stressing the advantages of joint unionization efforts, both the SEIU and Teamsters said they are in beginning phases of recruitment strategy planning, and will focus on jobs they believe cannot be outsourced overseas. Concentrating more on whole industries rather than individually targeted firms, the SEIU has recently helped increase organization activity in both large and small businesses in the trucking, hotel and casino industries.
One SEIU campaign, Americans for Healthcare, plans to increase its outreach efforts to lobby for more accessible healthcare. Following the Maryland Fair Share Healthcare Act, which requires companies with over 10,000 employees to spend at least 8% of their payroll on healthcare for their workers, Americans for Healthcare aims to lobby for policies in more states that will make it easier for smaller businesses to provide healthcare for their employees. Stephanie Mueller, national communications director for Americans for Healthcare, said exact changes to their outreach plans following the SEIU disaffiliation have not been discussed, but that their goals remain the same. "The SEIU has been very committed to this project and has given us the resources we need to continue opening up new operations in new states," she said.
Two other unions in the seven-member Change to Win Coalition are also boycotting the AFL-CIO convention: the United Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE, which are expected to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO as well. The four boycotting unions comprise a third of the AFL-CIO's 13 million members. Their disaffiliation would sharply cut the AFL-CIO's size and budget.
In a public statement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who is up for reelection at this year's convention, called the unions' boycott "an insult to their union brothers and sisters, and to all working people." Citing the importance of unity and solidarity, he said the split would greatly harm the political labor movement as a whole.