IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

US service workers union says won't rejoin AFL-CIO

The leader of a breakaway faction that has split the AFL-CIO, the 50-year-old umbrella group at the heart of the U.S. labor movement, said on Wednesday his union will not mend ties with the AFL-CIO and a new federation is needed to replace it.
/ Source: Reuters

The leader of a breakaway faction that has split the AFL-CIO, the 50-year-old umbrella group at the heart of the U.S. labor movement, said on Wednesday his union will not mend ties with the AFL-CIO and a new federation is needed to replace it.

"The AFL-CIO as we know it will never exist again," Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said in an interview. "We need to build something new ... start from zero."

Las month, the SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters decided to split from the AFL-CIO because of differences over how to stem a decline in membership.

The separation has stripped the AFL-CIO of one-third of its membership, or 4.6 million members, and more than $20 million in membership fees.

The three dissenters and four other unions, which are part of a coalition called the Change to Win Coalition, are working to launch a rival federation next month.

"Our seven unions are prepared to build a new, 21st century, modern and more flexible organization that focuses its attention outside Washington, D.C., and political parties," Stern said.

The three dissenting unions gathered this week in Chicago to participate in a convention organized by the Union Network International.

More than 1,500 union leaders, mostly from the service industries, from 150 countries met this week to plan strategies to boost international unionization.

At the convention, the head of the UFCW struck a more conciliatory tone than Stern, saying the food workers would consider returning to the AFL-CIO at some point.

"I hope that some day we can come back," Joe Hansen, who is president of both the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Union Network International, said earlier this week.

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has said his organization has "put aside our anger and disappointment and we are doing everything in our power to get back together."

The AFL-CIO has been the most powerful voice in the labor movement for decades on issues ranging from international trade agreements to worker safety, and Democrats have counted on the federation's backing and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Kent Wong, a labor expert of the University of California at Los Angeles, said both sides are still going through internal debates to sharpen their strategies and positions a month after the split.

"The reality is that challenges remain for both sides to see whether in fact they can organize more nonunion workers," Wong said.

The 1.8 million-member SEIU plans to take a leading role in the global effort organized by Union Network International, Stern said. This week, union leaders set plans to pressure multinational corporations in several countries to sign global agreements allowing their employees to organize.

Plans are under way to organize workers for retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc in Brazil, Argentina, Germany, South Korea and Britain.

Stern said a global union is key to bringing multinational corporations to the negotiating table, but he said coordinated strikes and picketing should not be ruled out in case dialogue fails.

"We always need to use the power of persuasion, that is what we think works best, but sometimes when it fails we need to use the persuasion of power and that could take many forms -- picketing and in some cases even strikes," Stern said. "We are in a new era and I think all options are available."

The SEIU will announce a joint organizing campaign in five countries to pressure Britain's Group4 Securicor to sign an agreement to let its security guards unionize.