Wall Street Journal

AFL-CIO Plans First Restructuring in 44 Years

By Glen Burkins
Staff Reporter
Oct.6, 1999

WASHINGTON-The AFL-CIO is proposing Its first significant restructuring in 44 years, a plan that would give it greater authority over its state federations and central laborcouncils.

The plan, which will be voted on next week, is aimed at pruning and rebuilding the local groups to make them more effective in carrying out labor's broad national agenda, AFL CIO officials said. The plan could mean a significant shift in power. For example, instead of having each state federation acting independently, the AFL, CIO's national office would play a greater role in setting an agenda for all of its state and local affiliates.

In addition, the national AFL-CIO almost certainly would consolidate some of its 600 central labor councils, especially those that are viewed by union leaders as being weak and ineffective.

The AFL-CIO's current structure has stood since 1955, when the American Federation of Labor merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Officials said the plan would be a blueprint for labor's political and organizing efforts well into the next century.

Marilyn Sneiderman, the AFL-CIO's director of field mobilization, said the restructuring plan is meant to focus the local groups on the same general goals. "When the labor movement is unified and focused, we win," she said. "It's a strong statement that we need to sit down and map out a whole new plan for the labor movement."

The restructuring is also linked to labor's stepped-up recruiting efforts. AFL-CIO officials hope to improve organizing campaigns, which have produced only modest gains in recent years. Union officials also want to do a better job of mobilizing union members nationwide around labor's political agenda, including voter registration and get-out the-vote campaigns.

Some union leaders said AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney had been considering such a move for more than a year but decided to wait for political reasons. So far, the plan appears to have widespread support from national union presidents and will be voted on at the AFL-CIO's convention in Los Angeles.

Not everyone likes it, however. Some local leaders have expressed concern that the move would mean less autonomy for local groups. In addition, faced with stiff opposition, Mr. Sweeney was forced to abandon a plan that would have required most local unions to join their state federations. Under the new plan, union locals would simply be strongly encouraged to join.

By all accounts, the AFL-CIO's current structure may have outlived its times. While some state federations and labor councils are considered strong and vibrant, others are much weaker and don't devote much time or resources to labor's broad agenda of recruiting members.

Union leaders said that experience indicates the new format will work. They point to their success In defeating a California ballot measure last year that would have required unions to get annual permission from their members before deducting dues money for political purposes.

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, said the move reflects the fact that much of the nation's political agenda is being shaped in states and cities far away from Washington ton. "It's a good time to take a new look at this," he said. "We created these bodies almost 50 years ago and we have not really, since then looked at their effectiveness."

Return to Laborers.org

(c) All orginal work Copyright Laborers.org 1998. All rights reserved..