Behind The Split

Behind the war of personalities and the big ideas of the dueling AFL-CIO and Change to Win (CTW) leaders, a story emerges that portrays the split as a play for power as much as it was about differences between the two camps.

In an internal memo to the staff of the AFL-CIO, Robert Welsh, executive assistant to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, shines light on the backroom conversations that were happening in the leadup to the split. While Welsh may have had political reasons to circulate the memo, it provides a glimpse into the high-level pre-split negotiations.

Welsh wrote that there was “little or no difference in the final positions” between AFL-CIO and CTW leaders, except for two sticking points. The first was Teamsters President James Hoffa’s insistence that the per capita dues paid by the Teamsters (IBT) to the AFL-CIO be cut by no less than half.


The second was about who would succeed Sweeney. Many do not expect Sweeney, who is 71, to finish the full term he was re-elected to, and say that the real fight was over his successor.

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that when the CTW wanted a 50 percent dues rebate, Sweeney supporters countered with an offer of 25 percent. Gerard said that the CTW was “willing to take a smaller rebate if they could pick Sweeney's successor.”

According to Joe Szczesny, who writes about labor for the Daily Oakland Press, CTW leaders had agreed to back Sweeney’s re-election before the convention, but balked at allowing his successor to be chosen by the AFL-CIO Executive Council. CTW leaders saw this as a maneuver to ensure that Richard Trumka, the current AFLCIO secretary-treasurer, would become the next president. CTW argued for a weighted vote that would give larger unions a greater say.




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Members in unions on both sides have raised questions about how top leaders handled decision-making around the split. Many key decisions were made with little to no consultation with members.

“Something had to be done to shake up this thing we call the labor movement,” said Scott Schroeder, a rank-and-file member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 588 in California. “Not one time did reps come into stores telling members of the plan to exit the AFL-CIO--no letters, nada.

“Most members had no clue any of this was even happening until they received their after-the-fact letters from [Local President] Jacques Loveall.”

In the pages of their newsletter, Teamster Leader, IBT officials stated that their decision to withdraw from the AFL-CIO “was reached as a matter of principle, after a lengthy and thoughtful process.” However, reformers are raising sharp questions about how long and how thoughtful this process was.


Indeed, the Leader itself noted that on the day of the split, the IBT Executive Board met at 11 a.m to approve Hoffa’s motion to disaffiliate. At 11:45 Hoffa announced the disaffiliation to IBT delegates, and he was at the CTW’s press conference announcing the split by 1 p.m.

Sandy Pope, president of Teamsters Local 805 in Long Island, New York, circulated an open letter calling on the board to reverse its decision until there was a “broader discussion.” Pope wrote that: "The AFL-CIO is not just a national body. Many [IBT] locals and joint councils are affiliated with state and local labor councils. Any move that could seriously jeopardize the cooperative relationships needed to conduct strike support, coordinated bargaining, and political action deserves consideration by a wide range of local officers and concerned members.”