Not a surprise but yesterday the Service Employees Executive Board unanimously approved a resolution taking SEIU one step closer to leaving the AFL-CIO. Without any conditions, the resolution empowered the officers of the union to decide when to leave the Federation.
As important, the resolution authorizes allocating additional money--SEIU has already kicked in $100,000--to seed the beginning of a new Federation. According to the resolution, the executive board authorizes the officers to "...participate in the creation of a new organization with some or all of our Coalition unions to promote coordination, cooperation and collective action on organizing, bargaining and political action on a local, national and global scale. This organization, currently named the Change to Win Coalition, would also be open to other unions, including the Carpenters, who share our goals. It will enable this group of unions to carry out innovative strategies to advance workers’ interests. The founding convention is scheduled for June 15, 2005. The Board authorizes the SEIU Executive Officers to officially affiliate with this Organization at that time, or as soon thereafter as the Executive Officers deem appropriate."
It's not called a new Federation but you know the quacking duck sound...
At the same time, the resolution offers, if SEIU pulled out of the Federation, to continue to participate in Central Labor Councils, the Federation's political program and any relevant departments. Obviously, this part of the resolution was in direct response to John Sweeney's recent letter underscoring the Federation's policy that non-affiliated unions cannot participate in Federation bodies.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the resolution is the offer of a blanket no-raiding clause to any union that wants to sign one with SEIU. I pointed out a couple of weeks ago that the real clue to whether SEIU was close to disaffiliating would be the emergence of no-raid agreements between SEIU and other unions. With this blanket offer, SEIU is basically saying, "we're going but we're not interested in pissing anyone off." On the other hand, SEIU's being prudent: it's also creating a legal defense fund to ward off any raiding attempts.
As one high-ranking SEIU person told me, "We're really focused on the 91 percent of the workers who aren't in unions," referring to the dismal percentage of current union members in the workforce...actually, it's less than 8 percent in the private sector.
I'm told that there was a long discussion--without any specific outcome--about whether to leave the AFL-CIO before or after the Federation's convention in late July, where, unless something shocking occurs, John Sweeney will be re-elected to another term--an act that will trigger, if it hadn't already happened, SEIU's withdrawal. Of course, it's possible that Sweeney and his supporters will make changes that could satisfy SEIU. Uh, I'd invest that bet in Florida swampland if I were you.
You can also read here a more detailed discussion of SEIU's perspective about the whole debate in the form of a statement by its executive board--it reasserts points made before in documents distributed by SEIU and its partner insurgents. However, it is worth reading for the section that articulates what SEIU views as the fundamental differences between its approach and the approach articulated by Sweeney.
The other interesting piece of news: Joe Hansen, president of the UFCW, attended the SEIU board meeting. His board will be meeting this coming week to discuss whether to disaffiliate. He made a not-so-subtle hint at that option in his recent letter to Sweeney.