Frustrated with the leadership of the AFL-CIO, the presidents of five major national unions formed their own labor federation yesterday and promised a series of aggressive, coordinated organizing campaigns that will restore power to the waning labor movement.
The move was widely viewed as the first step toward a historic split in the 50-year-old AFL-CIO, a federation of 57 national unions that has been losing membership and economic strength for decades.
"This is a historic occasion for working people," said Bruce Raynor, president of the garment and hotel workers' union Unite Here, which is among the five. "I hope and believe it will spark a change in the labor movement that will change the face of America."
Calling itself Change to Win, the group includes the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Laborers' International Union and Unite Here.
The unions will remain in the AFL-CIO at least until late July, when the 57 unions it represents meet for a convention in Chicago. The Change to Win presidents said they will ask delegates to change the AFL-CIO constitution to reflect their new principles.
Rival union leaders angrily responded that the move played into the hands of business interests and political conservatives.
"Forming this coalition is a step in the wrong direction because it's the first step towards a truly divided labor movement," said Gerald MacEntee, president of the government employees union and a close ally of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who is expecting to be re-elected to a third term.
SEIU President Andrew Stern said the federation was dying of inertia, and threatened to pull out unless it changed substantially, including more emphasis on organizing new members.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.