Unite Here, the 440,000-member union of hotel, restaurant and garment workers, announced its withdrawal yesterday from the AFL-CIO, joining three other major unions that have defected from the federation to form the Change to Win Coalition.
The departures leave the AFL-CIO with about 9 million members, down from 13 million before the Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers announced this summer that they were pulling out. All together, these unions had paid a total of $29 million in annual dues to the AFL-CIO, which had a $120 million budget.
John W. Wilhelm, one of two co-presidents of Unite Here, said the union is committed to spending half its revenue on organizing campaigns, and that a principal focus will be persuading immigrant workers to join unions. "Unions are the only institution in 21st-century America that can reverse the decline of the standards of living of most Americans," Wilhelm said. "Immigrants are refueling the labor movement."
Unite Here and the other breakaway unions say they have left the AFL-CIO because the federation has failed to stem the steady decline in the number of workers represented by labor organizations. In 2004, 12.5 percent of all workers and 7.9 percent of private-sector workers were members of unions.
"The Unite Here leadership made the wrong decision today for their members and for all American working people," said Lane Windham, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO. "Now more than ever, American workers need a united labor movement."
-- Thomas B. Edsall