So, here we are a week out from the opening of the convention (there is an Executive Council meeting this Friday and a variety of pre-convention meetings and forums on the weekend). Here's what we know today:
Various players are still trying to see if a deal can be made. Last week, the insurgent leaders met with John Sweeney, AFSCME's prez Gerry McEntee, Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and Ed Hill, president of the IBEW (who carries a lot of votes by virtue of the union's size) who is very concerned about the potential for disaffiliation by one or more of the insurgents.
At this point, the insurgents' press release probably stands as the best barometer of how the Change To Win coalition views the situation: "There is a wide gap between current AFL-CIO leadership proposals and true reform. There has been virtually no progress on the major issues under debate, and any action taken since our Executive Committee last met with the federation has been mainly window dressing. The current AFL-CIO leadership may be content. American workers are not. The federation has had many opportunities in recent weeks to embrace fundamental reforms that would strengthen labor's ability to make real headway for American workers and did not take advantage of them. The AFL-CIO leadership has adopted many of the words and phrases of the Change to Win Coalition without adopting the principles. This is not about using semantics for political positioning; it is about fundamentally changing the labor movement to put it in a position to help American workers make real advances that would value and reward work. That is our only standard, and it is a standard which will guide our actions in the weeks, months, and years ahead."
I've asked John Sweeney's folks to give their view of the situation and I'll post any response.
UPDATE: I appreciate getting a quick response from Lane Windham at the AFL-CIO's Media Affairs department. Lane write--"We don't usually put out releases about Sweeney's meetings with union presidents. But here I think the question is, rhetoric aside, what exactly constitutes this "wide gap" in positions? It's clear that the AFL-CIO has made huge, historic changes in the last several months. We've called for the largest restructuring of the AFL-CIO in its history, and for a major redirection of resources to organizing and politics - - resulting in over 100 staff cuts. Now we're proposing major changes in how the AFL-CIO deals with unions on bargaining standards and organizing jurisdictional issues - - through the Industry Coordinating Committees. The proposed changes to Article XX alone are the biggest changes to the AFL-CIO constitution in the labor movement's history. What are the unions' specific proposals for change that are so different? And what are their specific proposals to help lead the rest of the union movement to change? It would be healthy for our entire movement if we had a debate on the merits - - not simply on rhetoric."
I also understand that there is increasing debate among the insurgent unions about whether to attend the convention. On the one hand, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, if the Change To Win unions decide to skip the convention, it's hard for national union leaders to explain to their local leaders, who might be serving as delegates, why the union has decided not to go--even if there is no illusion that going will change the outcome, from their perspective.
On the other hand, the other view is that if the Change To Win coaliton does not believe it can get what it is seeking, going to the convention is a meaningless exercise. And might just engender unnecessary tensions at the conevntion.
This might get decided at the last minute, depending on the state of negotiations--I would not be too optimistic but who knows?--and whether there is a sense that the Central Labor Councils and State Federation delegates--who control almost 600 out of the roughly 1,041 delegates--might be open to voting for one or more of the Change To Win resolutions. So far, there's no big movement in that direction.
Lastly, for now, Bob Welsh, the Federation's chief of staff and executive assistant to Sweeney, sent out the e-mail below this morning to the entire staff, expressing his confidence that the Sweeney team will win re-election, as well as pass its agenda at the convention.
One week from the today nearly 1000 union delegates from around the country will gather in Chicago for our convention. This convention, as you know, marks the 50th anniversary of the merger of the AFL and the CIO in 1955. It marks the 10th anniversary of the election of John Sweeney, Rich Trumka and Linda Chavez-Thompson as the officers of the Federation.
In recent months there has been a lot of change here. We implemented a major restructuring of the Federation staff and said good-bye to a lot of friends and colleagues. In the coming weeks we will see more changes as staff take on new responsibilities and new departments are created.
We have also witnessed a broad internal debate about our future. For many of us this debate has been very frustrating. We all come to work every day and give our best for working people. We believe in this movement and in this Federation. Many of us have given our whole lives to this work. We listen to the debate, but few of us can participate in it.
All of this debate and these plans will come to a conclusion next week in Chicago. A number of us will be there during this -- others will be here at headquarters or at their post in the field. But regardless of where we are and regardless of what happens in Chicago, all of us are part of a great team. I am proud of the work that you do, and the officers are very proud.
While we cannot predict – nor should we – what will happen, here is some inside information:
• All three officers will be re-elected for four year terms.
• All of the proposals that the officers are making for change will be approved overwhelmingly by the Executive Council and by the delegates.
• Issues where there are disagreements now will be negotiated and compromise solutions will be found.
• Every effort will be made to keep the Federation together – and President Sweeney leaves for Chicago optimistic that this will be the case.
When everyone is back from Chicago the hard work begins again (after some down time for some of us I hope). We will hold a full briefing for all staff in early August to review the decisions made at the convention, and to outline our next steps.
For those of you who will be holding down the fort, we will try to send out all staff e-mails during the convention to keep you up on events.
For those of you leaving this week for Chicago, be prepared for long hours and important work.
This Federation, this AFL-CIO, was built by many many trade unionists in struggles spanning decades. It is not perfect -- we all know that. But it is, in the end, the most important institution for working people in America. It needs to be strong and united. That is our vision and that is our goal.
Thanks for all the hard work you have already done.
On to Chicago.