By Glen Burkins
WASHINGTON-The AFL-CIO is proposing Its first
significant restructuring in 44 years, a plan that would give
it greater authority over its state federations and central laborcouncils.
The plan, which will be voted on next week,
is aimed at pruning and rebuilding the local groups to make them
more effective in carrying out labor's broad national
agenda, AFL CIO officials said. The plan could mean a significant
shift in power. For example, instead of having each state federation
acting independently, the AFL, CIO's national office would play
a greater role in setting an agenda for all of its state and local
In addition, the national AFL-CIO almost
certainly would consolidate some of its 600 central labor councils,
especially those that are viewed by union leaders as being weak
The AFL-CIO's current structure has stood
since 1955, when the American Federation of Labor merged with
the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Officials said the plan
would be a blueprint for labor's political and organizing efforts
well into the next century.
Marilyn Sneiderman, the AFL-CIO's director
of field mobilization, said the restructuring plan is meant to
focus the local groups on the same general goals. "When the
labor movement is unified and focused, we win," she said.
"It's a strong statement that we need to sit down and map
out a whole new plan for the labor movement."
The restructuring is also linked to labor's
stepped-up recruiting efforts. AFL-CIO officials hope to improve
organizing campaigns, which have produced only modest gains in
recent years. Union officials also want to do a better job of
mobilizing union members nationwide around labor's political agenda,
including voter registration and get-out the-vote campaigns.
Some union leaders said AFL-CIO President
John J. Sweeney had been considering such a move for more than
a year but decided to wait for political reasons. So far, the
plan appears to have widespread support from national union presidents
and will be voted on at the AFL-CIO's convention in Los Angeles.
Not everyone likes it, however. Some local
leaders have expressed concern that the move would mean less autonomy
for local groups. In addition, faced with stiff opposition, Mr.
Sweeney was forced to abandon a plan that would have required
most local unions to join their state federations. Under the new
plan, union locals would simply be strongly encouraged to join.
By all accounts, the AFL-CIO's current structure
may have outlived its times. While some state federations and
labor councils are considered strong and vibrant, others are much
weaker and don't devote much time or resources to labor's broad
agenda of recruiting members.
Union leaders said that experience indicates
the new format will work. They point to their success In defeating
a California ballot measure last year that would have required
unions to get annual permission from their members before deducting
dues money for political purposes.
Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees
International Union, said the move reflects the fact that much
of the nation's political agenda is being shaped in states and
cities far away from Washington ton. "It's a good time to
take a new look at this," he said. "We created these
bodies almost 50 years ago and we have not really, since then
looked at their effectiveness."