Change to Win Federation
|Founded||September 27, 2005|
|Key people||James P. Hoffa, Chair|
|Office location||Washington, D.C.|
|Country||United States, Canada|
The Change to Win Organizing Center (CtW) is a coalition of American labor unions originally formed in 2005 as an alternative to the AFL-CIO. The coalition is associated with strong advocacy of the organizing model. The coalition currently consists of three member unions: The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT); Service Employees International Union (SEIU); and United Farm Workers (UFW).
New Unity Partnership and formation of the federation
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, labor union density (percentage of unionized American workers) was reaching a historic low point. From a high of over 30 percent in the 1950s, the proportion of American workers who were union members had plunged to 12 percent in the year 2000, and only 8 percent of private sector employees.
A reformist coalition led by John Sweeney, then president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), had taken over the helm of the AFL–CIO in 1995, but while the new regime was able to make some significant structural changes, they were not able to curtail the rapid decline of unions in the United States. In 2003, five unions joined together informally as the New Unity Partnership (NUP) to push for reform in the AFL-CIO and renewed effort to organize unorganized workers: The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) (later to merge to form UNITE HERE), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) and the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA). The NUP had no formal structure but pushed for coordinated, industry-based organizing campaigns and additional emphasis on organizing.
Of the NUP members, the SEIU, with its president Andy Stern, was the most vocal proponent of change in the labor movement. (The current president is Mary Kay Henry.) At the union's 2004 convention, Stern declared that workers should reform the AFL-CIO or "build something stronger." Over the next year, a discussion of the labor movement's future ensued with a degree of openness that was unusual for the often cloistered labor movement.
In 2005, the NUP formally dissolved and its five member unions, along with the Teamsters Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), created a new coalition, Change to Win, which introduced a program for reform of the AFL-CIO.
The coalition was founded on two basic principles:
- Working people, including current union members, cannot win consistently without uniting millions more workers in unions.
- Every worker in America has the right to a union that has the focus, strategy, and resources to unite workers in that industry and win.
Among the coalition's proposals to achieve these objectives was encouraging unions to organize on an industry-wide basis, consolidating smaller unions within a few large unions, providing financial incentives to AFL-CIO member unions that channel resources to organizing new members and spending more money on organizing as opposed to electoral politics.
The new union's members were largely service sector unions which represented large numbers of women, immigrants and people of color, as opposed to the manufacturing unions which formed the basis of labor's strength for many years.
Changes in federation membership
After a bitter and divisive internal battle, a third of the members of UNITE HERE left that union and joined SEIU. The remaining 265,000 members of UNITE HERE reaffiliated with the AFL-CIO on September 16, 2009.
The Laborers' International Union of North America said it would also leave Change to Win and rejoin the AFL-CIO on August 13, 2010. LIUNA officials did not immediately explain their reasons, but AFL-CIO officials said the reaffiliation would be formalized in October 2010.
Possible reunification with the AFL-CIO
On January 9, 2009, national news media reported that the five of the seven CtW unions had met with seven of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO in talks which explored the possibility of the five CtW unions rejoining the larger labor federation. Impetus for the talks came as the Obama administration signalled to both labor federations that it preferred to deal with a united rather than fragmented labor movement. Also, several Change to Win unions also concluded that they were not getting any significant advantage from being in a separate labor federation, and that a fragmented labor union was doing more harm than good. David Bonior, a former U.S. Congressman who once led the AFL-CIO's American Rights at Work division and who was a member of Barack Obama's presidential transition team, facilitated the meeting, and said talks were scheduled to last several weeks. The five CtW unions present included the Laborers, SEIU, the Teamsters, UFCW, and UNITE HERE. AFL-CIO unions present included AFSCME, the AFT, the Electrical Workers, the UAW, and the United Steelworkers. Also in attendance was Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which is independent and belongs to neither group.
A number of major issues were discussed in the opening round of talks. One major point of discussion revolved around who would lead any reunited federation. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was widely expected to retire at the trade union center's August 2009 convention, and Laborer's president Terence O'Sullivan and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka had been discussed as his successors. The nature of the AFL-CIO presidency was part of the leadership talks, with some unions suggesting that the presidency rotate among member unions while others hoped for a strong and vocal "executive director" position. The two sides agreed that any reunited labor federation should have a stronger voice in national politics as well as have a greater say in helping member unions engage in more new member organizing. The two sides also discussed whether to change the name of the AFL-CIO, or whether to adopt an entirely new organizational structure. Among other issues discussed were: How the AFL-CIO/new organization would encourage new member organizing and at what level (national or local), what a reunited labor movement's political priorities should be, what sort of relationship a reunited labor movement will have with the Democratic and Republican parties, the level of member union dues, and globalization issues. Although one news outlet reported that the 12 unions hoped to settle on a reunification agreement by April 15, 2009, no issues were resolved in the first round of talks.
Current organizing campaigns
Change to Win has focused its resources on organizing workers into unions. This focus has been written into its governing documents, which require at least 75% of CtW's resources and budget to be allocated to organizing programs.
CtW and its affiliate unions are currently running seven campaigns to organize workers in industries considered "core" to CtW unions. These campaigns are:
- Make Work Pay: Make Work Pay is a general organizing campaign aimed at improving wages and working conditions for working people.
- Justice at Smithfield: Organizes workers at Smithfield Foods pork-packing plants. Smithfield has been accused of human rights violations for its treatment of workers by international human rights group Human Rights Watch.
- Ports Protection: Organizes truck drivers who move cargo from port facilities out to warehouses and businesses.
- Wal-Mart Campaign: Organizes workers in Wal-Mart stores.
- Driving Up Standards Together: Organizes school bus drivers and monitors across the country. An international campaign coordinated with the UK's Transport and General Workers Union (now part of the United Kingdom trades union "Unite").
- Uniform Justice: Organizes employees of Cintas, North America's most profitable uniform and laundry company.
- Cure CVS: Organizes CVS/Pharmacy and criticize its practices.
The Emerald Cities Collaborative is a partner organization with the Change to Win Federation.
- US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-385. Report submitted March 31, 2014.
- US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-385. (Search)
- MacGillis, Alec. "For Unions, A Time of Opportunity and Worry." The Washington Post. September 15, 2009.
- Greenhouse, Steven. "Union Rejoining A.F.L.-C.I.O." New York Times. September 17, 2009.
- Stutz, Howard. "Culinary Parent UNITE HERE Rejoins AFL-CIO, Ending Four-Year Separation." Las Vegas Review-Journal. September 18, 2009.
- "Construction Workers' Union to Rejoin A.F.L.-C.I.O." Associated Press. August 14, 2010.
- Maher, Kris. "AFL-CIO, Breakaway Unions Discuss Reuniting." Wall Street Journal. January 9, 2009.
- Greenhouse, Steven. "Labor Calls for Unity After Years of Division." New York Times. January 7, 2009.
- Meyerson, Harold. "Labor's Real Fight." Los Angeles Times. February 1, 2009.
- Knowles, Francine. "AFL-CIO, Change to Win May Reunite." Chicago Sun-Times. January 8, 2009.
- Ambinder, Marc. "Behind The Labor Merger Talks." Atlantic Monthly. January 9, 2009.
- Leedham, Tom. "Reunification Without Democracy--What’s the Point?" Labor Notes. February 2009.