Change to Win Federation: Wikis

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Change to Win Federation
Ctw logo.png
Founded September 27, 2005
Members 4,774,282 (as of 12/31/2008)[1]
Country United States, Canada
Key people Anna Burger, Chair
Office location Washington, D.C.
Website www.changetowin.org/

The Change to Win Federation is a coalition of American labor unions originally formed in 2005 as an alternative to the AFL-CIO. The coalition is associated with strong advocacy of the organizing model.

Contents

History

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New Unity Partnership

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, labor union density (percentage of unionized American workers) was reaching a historic low point. Down from a high of over 30% in the 1950s, only 12% of American workers were union members in the year 2000, and only 8% of private sector employees.

A reformist coalition led by John Sweeney, then president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), had taken over the helm of the AFL-CIO in 1995, but while the new regime was able to make some significant structural changes, they were not able to curtail the rapid decline of unions in the United States.

In 2003, five unions came together to push for reform in the AFL-CIO. Their biggest emphasis was on a renewed effort to organize unorganized workers. The five unions were: the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) (later to merge to form UNITE HERE), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) and the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) joined together informally as the New Unity Partnership (NUP). The NUP had no formal structure but pushed for coordinated, industry-based organizing campaigns and additional emphasis on organizing.

Of the NUP members, SEIU, with its president Andy Stern, was the most vocal proponent of change in the labor movement. At the union's 2004 convention, Stern declared that workers should reform the AFL-CIO or "build something stronger." Over the next year, a discussion of the labor movement's future ensued with a degree of openness that was unusual for the often cloistered labor movement.

The formation of Change to Win

The NUP was formally dissolved in 2005, but its member unions, joined now by the Teamsters Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), created a new coalition, Change to Win, which introduced a program for reform of the AFL-CIO.

The coalition was founded on two basic principles:

  • Working people, including current union members, cannot win consistently without uniting millions more workers in unions.
  • Every worker in America has the right to a union that has the focus, strategy, and resources to unite workers in that industry and win.

Among the coalition's proposals to achieve these objectives was encouraging unions to organize on an industry-wide basis, consolidating smaller unions within a few large unions, providing financial incentives to AFL-CIO member unions that channel resources to organizing new members and spending more money on organizing as opposed to electoral politics.

The new union's members were largely service sector unions which represented large numbers of women, immigrants and people of color, as opposed to the manufacturing unions which formed the basis of labor's strength for many years.

In July, 2005, Change to Win elected SEIU secretary-treasurer Anna Burger as chair and UNITE HERE Executive Vice-President Edgar Romney as Treasurer.

Change to Win unions disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO

There was much speculation leading up to the 2005 AFL-CIO convention about whether the Change to Win unions would seek to challenge Sweeney for the presidency of the Federation, disaffiliate en masse or simply refuse to attend. The unions, together, represented approximately 35% of the AFL-CIO's members, but less than 20% of the convention delegates because of the Federation's delegate structure.

On the eve of the convention, the two largest Change to Win affiliates, SEIU and the Teamsters, announced that they were leaving the AFL-CIO. The announcement that the largest and third largest members of the AFL-CIO would leave raised urgent questions about how the Federation would continue to finance its operation. Another Change to Win union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, disaffiliated later that week. UNITE HERE (the product of a 2004 merger between UNITE and HERE) also boycotted the 2005 AFL-CIO convention. On 14 September 2005, UNITE HERE disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO as well. Two additional unions, the Laborers and the United Farm Workers, attended the convention, without yet disaffiliating (the UFW would disaffiliate in January of 2006; the Laborers in June 2006). Change to Win's seventh member, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, was not an AFL-CIO affiliate, having left the Federation in 2001.

On September 27, 2005, Change to Win held its founding convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The informal coalition announced the official formation of a labor federation dedicated primarily to organizing. The new plan unveiled at that convention featured a scaled down model which lacked much of the internal bureaucracy and expansive program of the AFL-CIO and focused almost exclusively on organizing new members through cooperation between the federation's affiliates.

It is unclear whether Change to Win will act as a competing federation, challenging the primacy of the AFL-CIO and its affiliates, or merely as a loose confederation of unions which coordinate efforts for the purpose of organizing. It is even more unclear whether the new federation will be able to reverse the decline of unions in the United States. While some have compared it to the old Congress of Industrial Organizations, which broke from the American Federation of Labor in 1935 and ushered in the largest growth in unionization in American history, critics claim it to be a "top-down" method of consolidation of bureaucratic, rather than worker's power.

Others criticize the move to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO, saying that it weakens organized labor at a time when unity is necessary to reverse the decline in union membership and to address what is perceived a hostile political environment for labor unions. Some labor activists contend that coalition's focus on structural changes to the AFL-CIO ignores larger issues facing organized labor, and question whether the coalition's objectives can be effective in realizing the tangible betterment of the lives and working conditions of workers.

Post-establishment membership changes

In the summer of 2009, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters disaffiliated from Change to Win.[2]

After a bitter and divisive internal battle, a third of the members of UNITE HERE left that union and joined SEIU. The remaining 265,000 members of UNITE HERE reaffiliated with the AFL-CIO on September 16, 2009.[3][4]

Reunification talks

On January 9, 2009, national news media reported that the five of the seven CtW unions had met with seven of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO in talks which explored the possibility of the five CtW unions rejoining the larger labor federation.[5] Impetus for the talks came as the Obama administration signalled to both labor federations that it preferred to deal with a united rather than fragmented labor movement.[6] But several Change to Win unions also concluded that they were not getting any significant advantage from being in a separate labor federation, and that a fragmented labor union was doing more harm than good.[6][7] David Bonior, a former U.S. Congressman who once led the AFL-CIO's American Rights at Work division and who was a member of Barack Obama's presidential transition team, facilitated the meeting, and said talks were scheduled to last several weeks.[5][6][8] The five CtW unions present included the Laborers, SEIU, the Teamsters, UFCW, and UNITE HERE.[5] AFL-CIO unions present included AFSCME, the AFT, the Electrical Workers, the UAW, and the United Steelworkers.[8] Also in attendance was Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which is independent and belongs to neither group.[6]

A number of major issues were discussed in the opening round of talks. One major point of discussion revolved around who would lead any reunited federation.[5] AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is widely expected to retire at the trade union center's August 2009 convention, and Laborer's president Terence O'Sullivan and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka have been discussed as his successors.[5][6][9] The nature of the AFL-CIO presidency was part of the leadership talks, with some unions suggesting that the presidency rotate among member unions while others hoped for a strong and vocal "executive director" position.[6] The two sides agreed that any reunited labor federation should have a stronger voice in national politics as well as have a greater say in helping member unions engage in more new member organizing.[6] The two sides also discussed whether to change the name of the AFL-CIO, or whether to adopt an entirely new organizational structure.[6] Among other issues discussed were: How the AFL-CIO/new organization would encourage new member organizing and at what level (national or local), what a reunited labor movement's political priorities should be, what sort of relationship a reunited labor movement will have with the Democratic and Republican parties, the level of member union dues, and globalization issues.[6][9] Although one news outlet reported that the 12 unions hoped to settle on a reunification agreement by April 15, 2009,[6] no issues were resolved in the first round of talks.[9]

The talks drew some limited criticism from members of the labor movement for not addressing issues of union democracy.[10]

Current organizing campaigns

Change to Win has focused its resources on organizing workers into unions. This focus has been written into its governing documents, which require at least 75% of CtW's resources and budget to be allocated to organizing programs.

CtW and its affiliate unions are currently running seven campaigns to organize workers in industries considered "core" to CtW unions. These campaigns are:

CtW member unions

See also

Notes

External links


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