[Paleopsych] NYT: Among Dissident Union Leaders, the Backgrounds May Vary but the Vision Is the Same

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Among Dissident Union Leaders, the Backgrounds May Vary but the Vision Is the 

[This is an important article. It's about the further decline of Big Labor, 
really. The percent of the U.S. labor force that is unionized is the same now 
as it was a century ago. But today, the majority of union workers are in 
government service at one level or another, the most influential being the 
teachers' unions.

[When John Kerry was campaigning for the presidency, he said he'd never cross a 
picket line, an attempt to win back the Reagan Democrats. Today the Democratic 
Party consists largely of the New Class and minorities.

[It's also instructive to realize that the same percentage of workers, 20% 
iirc, is in manufacturing today as it was in 1820, also iirc. Manufacturing 
workers exceeded agricultural workers soon after the War Between the States, 
and service workers exceeded manufacturing workers in 1957.]


    The band of union presidents who are threatening to create the biggest
    schism in organized labor in 70 years are a varied lot: a former meat
    cutter, a former social worker, the son of the last century's most
    controversial labor leader and the organizer who led the heralded
    unionization campaign at J. P. Stevens.

    Whatever their differences, they agree on a fundamental point: that
    the A.F.L.-C.I.O. has utterly failed to reverse labor's slide even as
    workers struggle to cope with stagnant wages and shrinking benefits.

    They argue that the federation needs to embrace far-reaching changes
    to save organized labor from oblivion. Failing that, the leaders of
    the dissident unions - which represent more than one-third of the
    federation's 13 million members - are warning they will secede from
    the federation.

    These leaders - from the Teamsters, service employees, food and
    commercial workers and Unite Here - just might carry out their threat
    next week at the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s convention in Chicago.

    "The way things are going, there's a real concern about whether
    there's even going to be a labor movement in a decade or two," said
    Joe Hansen, who became president of the United Food and Commercial
    Workers Union 16 months ago. "We need to create a structure and
    vehicle that's really going to advance the cause of not just our
    members, but all of the nation's workers."

    He has threatened leaving the federation along with James P. Hoffa,
    the Teamsters' president whose famous - some say notorious - father
    headed that union four decades ago; Bruce Raynor, president of Unite
    Here, whose role as lead organizer in the campaign against J. P.
    Stevens in the 1970's became a central part of the movie "Norma Rae,"
    and Andrew L. Stern, a onetime social worker who heads the service

    Their departure would be a major blow to organized labor. These
    dissidents represent three of the federation's four largest unions.
    The service employees have 1.8 million members, making it the biggest
    in the federation, while the Teamsters have 1.4 million members and
    the food and commercial workers, 1.3 million.

    "You either seize the opportunity to advance what you really believe
    in, or you let it go by and you become part of status quo," Mr. Hansen
    said. "We can't come out of Chicago with the status quo."

    Mr. Hansen, 61, a large man whose powerful hands bespeak his days as a
    meat cutter in Milwaukee, headed his union's packinghouse division
    before he inherited a union in disarray. It had been trounced in a
    four-and-a-half-month strike and lockout involving 58,000 supermarket
    workers in Southern California.

    Genial and pragmatic, Mr. Hansen has occasionally agreed to
    concessions to help save union jobs. After that trouncing, he helped
    stabilize the union's situation by successfully resisting demands for
    large-scale health care concessions in Seattle, Colorado and San
    Francisco. He is eager to turn around his union and sees the
    A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s current structure as inadequate to revive labor.

    John J. Sweeney, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, accuses the dissidents
    of betraying a core labor concept, solidarity, and he warns that their
    exodus would sabotage chances of a comeback for organized labor. A
    walkout would be a public relations disaster, many union leaders say,
    and hurt labor's clout in politics.

    "Breaking away isn't going to build a strong union movement," said
    Richard Trumka, the group's secretary-treasurer. "It will weaken the

    Mr. Raynor disagreed. "We don't take this lightly," he said. "We care
    about labor unity, but we care much more about having a labor movement
    that is effective for American workers and their families."

    Mr. Raynor, 55, a Cornell graduate, dresses in expensive suits -
    finely crafted in union hands, keeping with a tradition for leaders in
    the apparel union. He made his name, at J. P. Stevens and elsewhere,
    as one of the shrewdest, toughest organizers in the anti-union South.

    Before union audiences, Mr. Raynor can be a brilliant speaker, but in
    confrontations with anti-union managers, he can be a bare-knuckled
    street fighter. During an organizing drive at Kmart, he spearheaded
    sit-ins at several stores.

    "We're in a crisis, and we need to change the way we do business," Mr.
    Raynor said. "The federation can't simply be an organization that is
    the lowest common denominator, that if any union objects to anything,
    then it doesn't happen. That's a voluntary trade organization. That's
    not what American workers need. They need a focused, strong labor

    To that end, the dissidents have created a rival group, the Change to
    Win Coalition. They say the coalition will set requirements for each
    union on organizing and politics and will get its member unions to
    cooperate closely on giant unionization drives.

    "We have to stress organizing," Mr. Hoffa said. "The policies of the
    past 10 years haven't worked."

    Mr. Hoffa, 64, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, is
    not as charismatic, pugnacious or driven as was his father, James R.
    Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975. He did little to increase organizing
    after taking the Teamsters' helm in 1998 until the past two years.

    Mr. Stern, 54, the most charismatic of the dissidents, has grabbed
    most of the headlines. He was the first to threaten to quit the
    A.F.L.-C.I.O. and has helped persuade others to consider it. Known for
    his vision and impatience, he was the protégé of Mr. Sweeney while he
    headed the service employees' union.

    Mr. Stern has indicated that his union will probably quit, but whether
    the other unions follow depends on negotiations with Mr. Sweeney. They
    are demanding that he give the largest unions more power and agree to
    rebate half the federation's budget to individual unions to encourage
    organizing. They want the federation to push for mergers; to create
    larger, stronger unions; and they want strict standards requiring each
    union to do a specific amount of organizing.

    Terence O'Sullivan, the president of the laborers' union, shares the
    dissidents' harsh critique of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. but rules out

    "We're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the A.F.L. with the
    C.I.O.," Mr. O'Sullivan said, "but the A.F.L.-C.I.O. actually has less
    members today than 50 years ago, even though the nation's work force
    has more than doubled since then."

    Mr. O'Sullivan has won praise for getting his union, once one of the
    most corrupt, to focus far more on recruiting. He also developed a
    reputation for business acumen after he was named chairman of Ullico,
    a union-owned insurance company. It was losing millions of dollars a
    year, and he nursed it back to health.

    Mr. O'Sullivan is seen as a possible successor to Mr. Sweeney, and has
    taken pains not to alienate Mr. Sweeney's backers. He sees himself as
    a bridge-builder who might prevent a schism, or if there is one, might
    seek to limit it to months, not years.

    Several dissident leaders have indicated that they may not quit the
    federation if Mr. Sweeney retires. Mr. Sweeney, 71, has headed the
    federation for a decade and seems poised to win a new four-year-term
    at next week's convention.

    One dissident, John W. Wilhelm, 60, the president of Unite Here's
    hotel and restaurant division, had discussed running against Mr.
    Sweeney, but dropped the idea when he was unable to muster enough

    Mr. Sweeney insists that the differences between the two sides are too
    small to warrant a walkout.

    "If ever there was a time for the union movement to be united, this is
    it - with working people under the biggest assault in 80 years," he
    said. "Disunity just plays into the hands of the worst enemies of

    Insisting that he has long focused on organizing efforts, Mr. Sweeney
    says he will spend more on it and will encourage union mergers. But he
    has balked at the dissidents' demand to rebate half the federation's
    budget, saying that it would cripple the A.F.L.-C.I.O. He said the
    lion's share of organizing money should come from individual unions.
    Mr. Sweeney plans to raise political spending to $30 million a year,
    from $7.5 million.

    That move has angered Mr. Hoffa. "There really is a debate about
    whether we're going to focus on growth or throw more money at
    politicians," he said.

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