In These Times, a liberal magazine with close ties to organized labor, reported Wednesday that the United Food and Commercial Workers union is negotiating to rejoin the AFL-CIO. The report is credited to “high level sources within the AFL-CIO.”
This would be a major step towards ending a nearly decade-long schism in organized labor that resulted in several major unions departing the AFL-CIO to form their own coalition group, Change to Win.
Adding the 1.3 million member UFCW back to its ranks would boost the AFL-CIO’s overall membership by 10 percent. The additional dues would boost the AFL-CIO’s coffers by $10 million annually.
UFCW joined the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union, Unite Here, the Laborers International Union of North America and others to form the rival coalition in 2005. At the time, they expressed frustration over the older coalition’s lack of progress in organizing new workers to stop labor’s steady decline in membership.
In These Times reports that there was another reason for the creating the rival coalition: “Some critics claim that one of the underlying motives was to cut down on dues—as of 2011, Change to Win charged roughly half of the AFL-CIO’s per-member rate.”
The split threatened to further divide Big Labor as a political and economic force. The AFL-CIO succeeded in preventing other unions from defecting though and Change to Win has mostly faded as an active organization since then. In 2009, Unite Here rejoined the AFL-CIO. The following year, LIUNA rejoined.
To a certain extent, the initial split reflected a personal falling out between between then-SEIU President Andy Stern, a prime mover in forming Change to Win, and then-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Stern had been a protege of Sweeney, who had himself formerly been SEIU president.
Since then, both men have retired and the two coalitions have worked together on several issues rannging from targeting Walmart to pushing for immigration reform.
The UFC’s departure from Change to Win bolsters the chances that the remaining members, most notably SEIU and the Teamsters, will also concede defeat and rejoin the AFL-CIO.
The formal announcement is likely to come at the AFL-CIO’s convention in Los Angeles in September. This would give current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka a significant victory to tout at the event.