On Monday, July 25, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters unanimously voted to withdraw its membership from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
That same day, the Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern said that SEIU’s executive board had decided to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO.
Neither organization made an appearance at the AFL-CIO’s July 24 convention. UNITE HERE and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union also did not attend the convention.
“It’s a shame for working people that before the first vote has been cast, four unions have decided that if they can’t win, they won’t show up for the game,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeny.
“We believe in very fundamental change, not incremental reform,” Stern said. “I want to stress that this was not an easy or happy decision.”
James Hoffa, the Teamsters’ general president, said that the decision came “after months of discussion and deliberation.”
The Teamsters and the SEIU announced they had teamed with five other unions in the Change to Win coalition. Those other unions include the Laborers’ International Union of North America, UNITE HERE, UFCW, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and the United Farm Workers of America.
The coalition represents five million workers. It has urged the AFL-CIO, among other things, to direct half of its total budget to growth, support mergers that unite workers by industry and lead a campaign for health care and retirement security.
Hoffa said that his organization wanted to increase the number of union members to gain more political power.
“We submitted, in good faith, proposals to dramatically change the direction of the AFL-CIO to stem the losses that we have endured over the past decade. We proposed that the AFL-CIO embark on a new course of action that would not only protect our existing Teamster members and their families, but lead to thousands of new working men and women having the opportunity to organize into a strong union that would give them the chance to achieve the American dream – to own their own home, send their kids to college and plan a strong retirement,” Hoffa said.
“A country that once had 35 percent union membership is now down to 8 percent in the private sector,” Stern said. He said that now workers have “less health care, less time to spend with their families, less secure pensions in their retirement, but more debt and more insecurity about the future.”
In a prepared statement, Hoffa reminded the Teamsters that the organization would continue to work hard to get a better life for its members, and that it would continue to cooperate with the Building Trades, the State Federations and the Central Labor Councils to achieve justice for all working people.
“It’s far easier to tear down a union movement than to build one,” Sweeny said. “America’s working people cannot afford for unions to declare ‘it’s my way or the highway’ when workers are under the biggest assault in 80 years. The fact is that the real issue for these unions is not one of policy or direction, but rather who controls and leads the federation.”