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12/29/2004

Teamsters Union Offers Own Proposals in Growing Debate Over AFL-CIO's Future

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has come forward with a plan to streamline the AFL-CIO and make better use of its resources for organizing.

The union’s 7-point plan is the latest entry into the growing debate about the future of the AFL-CIO, which will be discussed at a meeting of the Executive Council in March in Las Vegas.

“We believe our restructuring proposals will allow us to build a more unified and more effective labor movement,” IBT President James Hoffa said in a Dec. 8 statement. “We hope these proposals will contribute to the process that will lead to a stronger labor movement as we head to the coming AFL-CIO convention.”

The Teamster plan would streamline the national AFL-CIO by eliminating those functions that are duplicated by the affiliates or more appropriately done by them. It would also cut the duplication of operations and resources between the national unions and affiliated state and local bodies. That would save millions of dollars, which could be used for organizing.

Another proposal would reduce the per capita tax by 50% for those unions that allocate a minimum of 10% of their national union dues income to organizing and devote rebated resources to organizing in core industries. This would provide an incentive for laggard unions to take on more organizing campaigns.

The Teamsters insist the AFL-CIO Executive Committee, which is composed of 25 members of the 54-member Executive Council, is “untenable” and “unfair for those unions that are the principle sources of AFL-funding.”

The IBT plan recommends that the Executive Council be drastically shrunk. “If ten is too small, let it be the top fifteen unions and no more,” it says. This proposal is expected to receive heated opposition from many international unions now represented on the Council.

Differing with the SEIU, whose plan would restructure AFL-CIO’s international unions from 64 to fewer than 20 through forced mergers, the Teamsters say: “The Executive Committee should develop a concrete plan for encouraging sector/industry appropriate mergers and should be authorized to create special inducements, financial or otherwise, to accelerate the merger process.”

There will probably be consensus on the IBT proposal to “develop a strategic political and organizing plan for ‘swing states’ to increase union membership and political influence in order to produce a pro-labor White House and Congress in future elections.”

The Teamsters also want to reform the AFL-CIO jurisdictional disputes mechanisms so that unions are prohibited from undercutting contract standards established by other unions. The AFL-CIO has tried for decades to stop jurisdictional warfare without much success.

Whatever plan emerges from the AFL-CIO meeting in March, it will represent the best thoughts of the current union leadership. But there is no guarantee that any plan will work without inspiring millions of union members to become involved. That was the missing ingredient in past programs to revitalize the labor movement. It can happen again if our national leaders don’t learn from their past mistakes.

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