Labor's Voice for Change (19) March 19, 2009

Itís a Lifetime Job with a Six-Figure Salary,
So Why Should Old Labor Leaders Retire?

By Harry Kelber


The presidents of big international unions hold down some of the cushiest jobs in America and, although many of them are getting close to eighty, have health problems and have had to cut down on their activity, they donít want to give up their jobs. Why should they, if they donít have to?

Itís not only that they earn a six-figure salary and benefits, plus the perks and influence that come with being an international union president. They have something that corporate CEOs could envy: virtual job security that could stretch into a lifetime of service. Many of them run their union as though it was their personal property. Theoretically, they could lose re-election to an opposing candidate, but they are rarely challenged, and they have a variety of ways to squash opposition.

Many labor leaders, who are past seventy, do not believe that old age disqualifies them for a top union position. They point to Samuel Gompers, the first AFL president, who held the position for 38 years until his death in 1924 at age 74. He was succeeded by William Green, who also died in office after 28 years of service. (He was 79.) Then came George Meany, who held the labor presidency for 28 years until he became terminally ill and died at age 86. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who at 75, is scheduled to retire at the federationís 2009 convention.

There is growing sentiment that these superattenuated labor leaders, who control the AFL-CIOís 43-member, policy-making Executive Council, should retire and make way for younger, forward-looking leaders. Itís not only their age, but their incompetence, conservative bias and do-nothing policies that have aroused increasing anger against them from the rank-and-file. But you canít compel the old boys to retire if they donít want to ó unless you drive them out of office.

It has been suggested that a House of Lords be created, a kind of Valhalla for old, battle-scarred labor leaders, as a way of enticing them to give up their lucrative jobs for a title that may be meaningless. But itís their call. What if most of them, or many. refuse the deal? What then?

And even if the old-timers are replaced by ďnew blood,Ē would the newcomers behave much differently, unless long-overdue reforms were put in place?

Beware of Roadblocks in the AFL- CIO Constitution

The test for reformers will come at the AFL-CIOís convention, when there will be an election of its three top officers and 43 vice presidents of the Executive Council. To launch an effective campaign, reformers must recognize that the source of the Old Guardís monopoly of power lies in four distinct provisions of the AFL-CIO Constitution,

If we can transform these provisions in the Constitution so they represent common sense, democratic values, we have a good chance of defeating the group that now controls the AFL-CIO.

Starting next week, we shall begin posting a series of articles that analyze the trouble spots in the AFL-CIO Constitution

Article 20 of ďLaborís Voice for ChangeĒ will be posted on Tuesday, March 24.