Labor's Voice for Change (22) March 31, 2009

How the AFL-CIO Constitution Helps
To Perpetuate a Corrupt Leadership
(Third Article)

By Harry Kelber

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and his associates on the Executive Council knowingly and fraudulently violated the Federation’s Constitution by illegally using a voice vote, instead of the required two-thirds majority, to pass an amendment that would expand their tenure from two years to four years.

They kept their ambition a dark secret from the union membership until the first day of the 1997 convention, when the delegates were informed about their amendment for a four-year term. But there was an obstacle: The constitution’s Article XVI — Amendments specifically states:

“The constitution can be amended only by the convention, by two-thirds of those present and voting, either by a show of hands, or if a roll call is properly provided in the constitution, by such roll call.” No mention of voice voting

The AFL-CIO leaders simply ignored the constitution and, by a voice vote, adopted the amendment, preceded by several innocuous amendments to lull the attention of the delegates.

(I was at the convention as a reporter for the newsletter, The Labor Educator, when I saw dozens of delegates milling around outside the convention hall, smoking or chatting with other delegates, unaware of what was going on inside the hall.)

Many delegates were understandably confused, because the final version did not mention the four-year term, but moved to adopt the “proposed Substitute Constitutional Amendment A and to take no further action on Proposed Constitutional Amendments Nos. 7 and 8.” No delegate rose to discuss the amendment. It was carried by voice vote.

Sweeney Group Should Be Charged with Willful Fraud

At the 1999 convention, the Sweeney group found a cover-up for their use of the voice vote two years earlier. They had delegates approve a new amendment that made voice voting “legal”. But this measure, too, was painted as illegal, as a clear violation of the original constitutional provision.

Between 1999 and 2005, there were 55 amendments to the constitution, all of them passed by voice voting. Nearly all of them were approved without discussion or debate, including such controversial issues as increasing the per-capita tax, holding conventions every four years instead of every two years, and limiting the number of Executive Council meetings from three per year to two.

* * * * *

Unions should bring charges against Sweeney and the Executive Council before the AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Committee or some non-partisan, independent group, for knowingly subverting the provisions of the constitution for their private gain.

Unions must elect articulate and knowledgeable convention delegates who can find ways to challenge and blunt the use of voice voting, and who will open up issues for debate, rather than remain silent.

We have the talent to fight back. But do we have the will?

What the AFL-CIO Needs Are New Leaders
With Fresh Ideas and an Inspiring Vision

Article 23 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted Thursday, April 2, 2009