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200 at AFL-CIO agree to unpaid leave

Group sees Bush as threat to unions

WASHINGTON -- The AFL-CIO is enduring a budget shortfall so severe that its own workers are taking two days of unpaid leave to avoid layoffs, even as the labor federation attempts to mobilize its largest-ever political campaign.

Dubbed "solidarity days," the days off were agreed to last summer in contract negotiations between managers and the union representing about 200 workers at the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of 64 international unions. Managers also have agreed to take the unpaid time.

AFL-CIO spokeswoman Lane Windham said employees covered by the Newspaper Guild Local 32035 decided they would rather lose pay for two days than face layoffs.

Other belt-tightening measures are being taken in response to a dismal economy that slammed many unions with layoffs, and to launch a "do-or-die" election effort next year to defeat President Bush.

The number of potential layoffs was never discussed in the negotiations, said Deborah Weinstock, an AFL-CIO employee and a guild leader.

"It didn't get to that point," she said.

Windham said that members of AFL-CIO-affiliated unions have been hit hard by the loss of 2.3 million jobs since January 2001, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which has slashed payrolls for 38 consecutive months.

Defeating Bush in 2004 has become a question of survival for organized labor.

Union leaders maintain Bush is determined to destroy the political power of unions, and they see permanent damage in a second term.

"It's safe to say we will put as much as we possibly can of all of our resources into the political campaign," said the AFL-CIO president, John Sweeney.

Some union presidents have asked Sweeney to trim fat from the AFL-CIO's overall budget and to apply any savings to the federation's political program.

With Bush expected to pocket over $200 million in campaign contributions, "I think we know that to be able to talk to our members and in some cases nonunion voters, we're going to need a lot of resources to be heard," said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest in the AFL-CIO.

About $5 million was diverted from the labor federation's organizing efforts to help fund what Sweeney said is "the biggest, earliest, most aggressive, grass-roots political program in our history."

The federation has about $35 million budgeted for member mobilization and politics in the election cycle, Sweeney said. That's less than the $42 million spent in 2000.

Some union presidents are pushing for a $45 million budget that also would help fund several of the union-run political nonprofit groups that have been created to turn out Democratic voters.

Labor leaders early next year will consider tapping affiliate unions with another surcharge of 4 cents per member per month -- called a per-capita tax -- to raise funds.

"We're going to put together as strong a financial resource package" as possible, Sweeney said.

The surcharge could encounter some resistance. The same surcharge was approved for the 2002 election cycle -- after much grumbling from some unions -- and it was supposed to pay for the political program through 2005.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the second-largest union in the AFL-CIO, is cutting spending to raise more money for politics. AFSCME is suspending raises for its employees in 2004 and directing the six-figure savings to politics, said its president, Gerald McEntee.

Travel also is being restricted, including a ban on first-class tickets, and other cuts are being considered.

"We're telling people for 2004 we've got to postpone a lot of this -- this is kind of a do-or-die situation," McEntee said.

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