4th Union Quits A.F.L.-C.I.O. in a Dispute Over OrganizingBy STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: September 15, 2005
Deepening the split in organized labor, Unite Here, a union that represents apparel, hotel, casino and restaurant workers, announced yesterday that it was quitting the A.F.L.-C.I.O., becoming the fourth union to do so this summer.
Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, said his union's board had voted unanimously to quit because the A.F.L.-C.I.O. had not done enough to spur union organizing to reverse the decline of the labor movement.
"We believe that American workers are facing a historical crisis," Mr. Raynor said in a telephone news conference from St. Paul, where his union's board was meeting. "There are 28 million Americans that went to work this morning who made less than the poverty level."
This summer, three other major unions quit the labor federation: the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers. The four departing unions represented about 4.5 million workers out of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s membership of 13 million.
The leaders of Unite Here, which represents 450,000 workers, said the dissident unions would focus on large-scale organizing drives to try to unionize thousands of workers at the same time.
Immigrants will be a particular focus, they said, because the breakaway unions cover industries with millions of immigrant workers, like restaurants, nursing homes, supermarkets, hotels and janitorial companies.
On Sept. 27, the four breakaway unions will hold a founding convention in St. Louis to create a union federation, tentatively called the Change to Win Coalition. The dissident leaders say the new group will be more aggressive about organizing workers than the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s unions.
Two unions still in the A.F.L.-C.I.O. - the laborers' union and the United Farm Workers - say they will join the new group. The carpenters' union, which quit the main labor federation in 2001, also plans to join.
"We believe it's our responsibility to do everything we can to work with all interested unions to grow the labor movement," said John W. Wilhelm, president of the hospitality division of Unite Here. "The labor movement is the only institution in 21st-century America that can reverse the decline in living standards for most Americans."
Unite Here is an amalgam of several famous unions. Unite was formed in 1995 when the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers merged with the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. Unite Here was formed last year when Unite merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O. criticized yesterday's move.
"Unite Here's leadership made the wrong decision for their members and for America's working people because now more than ever, working people need to be united," said Lane Windham, a spokeswoman for the federation. "Everybody supports organizing, everybody supports politics, and we're stronger when we're united."
Unite Here contributes $4 million a year to the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s $120 million budget. Together, the departing unions contributed about $30 million a year.
Officials of Unite Here say their union emerged largely victorious in recent hotel strikes in Los Angeles and Washington, and in a casino strike in Atlantic City.