Labor's Voice for Change (69) September 10, 2009

An Unfair Convention Voting System Enables
A Few Union Presidents to Control AFL-CIO

By Harry Kelber
Candidate for Executive Council

A single paragraph in the AFL-CIO Constitution has enabled a small group of presidents of the largest international unions to maintain monopoly control of the AFL-CIO, without any real possibility that they will ever be seriously challenged.

Article IV of the AFL-CIO Constitution states, in legalistic language, that each international union shall be entitled to cast as many votes as the number of its members, while state and local bodies can cast only one vote each.

What this means in practice is that a large union, like the American Federation of Teachers, with a million members, can cast one million votes in an AFL-CIO election, while the New York State AFL-CIO, with more than two million members, gets only one convention vote,

Or to put it another way, a small union. like the Federation of Professional Athletes has 1,750 votes, based on its membership, an amount that is nearly three times the total vote of all state federations and central labor councils combined

Picture a convention hall where a delegate from a central labor council sits with one convention vote, while alongside of him is a delegate from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees( AFSCME) with more than 50,000 convention votes.

Apologists for this outrageously undemocratic system use the specious argument that since the international unions pay per capita to the AFL-CIO and state and local affiliates do not, the voting system is justified. But it is the members’ dues money that supports the international unions, so why should we be denied proper representation?:

It is understandable that labor leaders like Sweeney, Trumka and members of the executive council never criticize the glaring inequalities. Why should they? They love those words in the Constitution. Even if things go bad, no one can dare challenge them for their job.

But what is strange is that there has not been even a peep of protest from unionists who consider themselves progressive. The labor press has been conspicuously silent about the lack of fair voting rules and its damaging consequences.

The Solution Is Clear: One Vote for Each Delegate

In virtually every organization in the United States, the rule is that every member has one—and only one—vote. That rule is followed by the Canadian Labor Congress. It is a rule that does not require complicated changes. It can be put into effect tomorrow. In time, it would change the leadership landscape of the AFL-CIO.

If labor reformers are looking for a high-priority issue, “One Delegate—One Vote” is a natural. We can put pressure on the Old Guard leadership to adopt it or face the charge of using corrupt practices. If we succeed, we will open the door to fair and honest elections, in which a new breed of qualified labor leaders can attain national office. This is a campaign that should be started immediately to restore democracy to the AFL-CIO

Article 70 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted after the conclusion of the AFL-CIO convention, Sept. 17.