UFCW Breaks with AFL-CIO

CHICAGO -- The 1.4-million-member United Food and Commercial Workers broke away from the AFL-CIO Friday, the third major union to leave the labor organization this week because of differences in organizing strategies and declining membership issues.

"The UFCW, in order to pursue the most effective course of action for its members and all workers in its core industries, is terminating its affiliation with the AFL-CIO effective immediately," UFCW International President Joe Hansen said in a letter to AFL-CIO that was posted on the UFCW Web site.

"While our affiliation ends, our commitment to work with the AFL-CIO and unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO on issues and programs where we share common goals remains unchanged. I believe our movement is united in our basic principles and values, even if we pursue different strategies. The UFCW and its local unions will continue to fund and work with state and local federations in politics and lobbying, and for mutual support of worker struggles."

The 1.8-million-member Service Workers International Union and the 1.4-million-member International Teamsters Union left AFL-CIO at the start of its convention in Chicago on Monday.

The leaders of those unions said they favored more aggressive organizing efforts than the AFL-CIO, arguing that the parent organization devoted too many resources to political campaigns and lobbying, and that new strategies were needed against non-union corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

According to published reports, the move was expected, though Sweeney had said at the close of the convention that he hoped to persuade disaffected unions to return to the fold. In an attempt to mollify the dissidents, the federation resolved to double to $25 million the amount of money spent annually on organizing.

Critics of the dissident unions called the disaffiliations an attempt at a power grab by Service Workers president Andy Stern -- who was once Sweeney's protege -- and Teamsters leader James Hoffa. The two unions had contributed $18 million in annual dues to the AFL-CIO's $125 million budget.

Following the loss of the three largest unions, the AFL-CIO now comprises 53 unions and represents about 8.5 million workers.

Union membership has been in rapid decline in the United States, with U.S. Labor Department statistics showing 12.5 percent of wage and salary workers were union members in 2004, down from 20 percent in 1983. Currently, only about 8 percent of private-sector workers are union members.

The 1.4 million-member UFCW is the nation's largest private-sector union, with members working in the retail, meatpacking, food-processing, manufacturing, health care, public service, chemical, distillery, garment, and textile industries. Key issues to UFCW members are health care reform, equal opportunity, ergonomics, overtime pay protection, and a right to a voice at work.

At least three other affiliated unions may leave the AFL-CIO in coming weeks, according to reports. They include UNITE HERE (which represents garment, textile, and hotel workers), the Laborers International of North America, and the United Farm Workers.
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