[Paleopsych] NYT: Among Dissident Union Leaders, the Backgrounds May Vary but the Vision Is the Same
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Fri Jul 22 19:12:14 UTC 2005
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
[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.]
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
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
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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