In a widely expected move, the 550,000-member Carpenters union said yesterday that it is joining the coalition recently set up by five other unions as a potential rival to the AFL-CIO.
Five years ago, the Carpenters left the AFL-CIO, complaining that the federation had failed to slow organized labor's decline.
The AFL-CIO, which represents almost 60 unions with 13 million members, has substantial differences with the five dissident unions, which represent more than 5 million of that total.
The dissident unions - the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Food and Commercial Workers, Unite Here and Laborers International Union - joined in mid-June in an alliance called the Change to Win Coalition.
The SEIU, the AFL-CIO's largest union with 1.8 million members, is expected to leave the 50-year-old federation, whose members are the nation's major labor unions.
Though the Carpenters quit the federation, the AFL-CIO's leaders allowed the union to continue to belong to its Building and Construction Trades Department, hoping that the union would return to the fold.
The Carpenters' move could have an impact on other building and construction trade unions with which it has relationships in communities across the country, labor officials said.
"We are proud to be joining with the Carpenters' union because the status quo can no longer stand," said a statement issued by Teamsters President James P. Hoffa Jr.
The Carpenters' announcement came as the AFL-CIO's executive council, which was meeting in Washington, supported proposals calling for changes which will be voted upon at the Chicago convention next month.
The proposals are the core of AFL-CIO's President John J. Sweeney's re-election bid, and his effort to soften the dissidents' criticism about the federation's failures.
With the four-day convention less than a month away, Sweeney and his supporters have reportedly been talking with the dissidents about last-minute deals in an effort to keep the federation intact.
But there is growing pessimism of such an outcome.
2 power centers
"I think we will end up with two competing power centers," said Rick Sloan, a spokesman for the Machinists union, which backs Sweeney.
Similarly, Greg Tarpinian, a consultant for the Teamsters, predicted that "there is a good chance a number of affiliates will leave the AFL-CIO."
Amid the heightened talk about saving labor, Rachel Padgett, head of the Association for Union Democracy, a small watchdog group in New York, lamented what she described as a lack of attention to what average union members have to say.
"Union democracy," she said, referring to the statements from the competing union groups, "seems to be a footnote and an afterthought."
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.