John J. Sweeney won a fourth term as president of the AFL-CIO on Wednesday, as the labor federation made hurried preparations to counter raiding wars with major unions that left the national organization earlier this week.
Just hours before cheering delegates gave Sweeney, 71, another four-year term, the convention approved a $4 million dues increase and the creation of a fund "to combat raids by disaffiliating unions."
In his acceptance speech, Sweeney, who was unopposed, referred to the blow dealt to the AFL-CIO on Monday when the Service Employees International Union (1.8 million members) and International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1.4 million) pulled out of the federation, taking with them a total of $18 million in annual dues. As many as three other unions -- the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unite Here and the Laborers' International Union -- are likely to follow, taking with them more than 2 million more members and about $15 million in dues.
"Despite the conflicts and even the divisions we've suffered, I think we all feel a new sense of clarity about our mission and new energy propelling us toward our goals," Sweeney said. "What we do in the weeks and months ahead to move forward with focus and fight will determine whether we build the stronger movement we must have."
But Mike Fox, a member of AFSCME and the Schuylkill County Central Labor Council, warned: "It is their [the dissident union leaders'] intent and their current practice to raid unions. They have put a target on the backs of locals in California."
In addition to financing a special anti-raiding fund, the dues increase is to finance the loss of revenue at the 500 labor councils and 50 state federations. These organizations are the core institutional structure of the AFL-CIO, in which unions conduct political mobilization efforts and lobbying campaigns, and coordinate organizing activities. "The labor councils are where the rubber meets the road. If you are in trouble and having a strike, who do you turn to? The labor council," said Bill Boardman, of the Communication Workers of America.
The dues increase approved Wednesday requires unions in the AFL-CIO to pay 48 cents a year per member, on top of the $7.23 members already pay. It will help replace some of the lost money, but it amounts to only about 10 percent of total losses.
Much more revenue will be required to maintain AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington and the state and local councils. Total lost revenue could easily approach $35 million out of the federation's $120 million national budget. The local councils and state federations are financed by separate dues from local unions and will suffer varying amounts, depending on the strength of the defecting unions in the area.
The AFL-CIO approved a series of structural changes in the organization and power of the federation that Sweeney had agreed to in a failed effort to reach agreement with the dissident unions. These changes, which encourage small unions to merge with larger unions and increase the power of the large unions within the AFL-CIO, ran into vocal and angry opposition, especially from leaders of such smaller unions as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Boilermakers Union.