Labor's Voice for Change (71) September 24, 2009

A Viable Candidate was Illegally Barred
To Prevent an Embarrassing Election

By Harry Kelber
Candidate for Executive Council

The AFL-CIO hierarchy, after fielding a slate of 51 candidates for Vice President seats on the Executive Council, brusquely, and illegally, barred me, the only challenging candidate, from being nominated, thereby avoiding the need for an election that would have been embarrassing.

It was the fourth consecutive time that the AFL-CIO leadership had gained four-year terms, without any opposing candidates and without debate or even the slightest involvement of union members.

On June 1, 2009, I sent a registered letter to Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, announcing that I was a candidate for Vice President on the then 43-member Executive Council. I decided to run after I could not find a single progressive union leader or activist willing to become a candidate. I thought that my example would encourage other unionists to enter the race. (Sad to say, none came forward.)

Within the next two months, I obtained the three unionists who were willing to nominate and second my candidacy. They were (1) a president of a CWA local: (2) an officer of the United Transportation Union, and (3) an executive board member of a Plumbers and Fitters local on the West Coast. I had met the requirements to be on the ballot.

I had several exchanges with AFL-CIO General Counsel Jonathan Hiatt and the Election Officer, Edward McElroy, who tried to disqualify me on the grounds that my nominators were not convention delegates. But I pointed out that neither the AFL-CIO Constitution, nor the Standing Rules of the 2009 convention, nor anywhere else was there a requirement that nominators had to be convention delegates.

I had won my point. My candidacy could go forward and my name would be placed on the ballot. So I thought. I became suspicious when, until a few minutes before the nominating session, I still appeared to be the only candidate running for Executive Council.

When the nomination session began, the chairman (I think it was the Election Officer) read off the names of the 51 candidates and their nominators on the official slate. and then quickly closed the nominations, without mentioning my candidacy.

I tried to get the floor, but since I was not a delegate, I was not recognized. They simply brushed off my candidacy and me. The 51-candidate slate was thus elected without opposition, but with no further comment.

No More AFL-CIO Elections Unless Major Changes Are Made

Under current convention voting rules, it is impossible for any opposition candidate to run for national office without suffering a shattering, humiliating defeat, The rules, embedded in the AFL-CIO Constitution, give presidents of the largest international unions enough convention votes to elect whomever they choose—and they have no problem in dismissing potential rivals.

The AFL-CIO has gone to ridiculous lengths to prevent any challenging candidate from getting a sizeable vote. Here’s an example:

If delegates wanted to vote for me, they would have to get the names of 50 other delegates on each of their ballots. If they could get the names of only 20 or 30 or even 49, the ballot would be declared invalid and not be counted.

Nor is that all. The ballots had to contain the “voting strength of each delegate, Someone from a Central Labor Council could claim one vote; a delegate from the million-member American Federation of Teachers could claim 60,000 votes. (There were other bizarre voting procedures that made an AFL-CIO election a farce.)

* * * *

I was deeply offended by the disrespectful treatment I received from the AFL-CIO leadership, but I am not going to make an issue of it. It’s time to move on. There is lots of work to be done to rebuild the AFL-CIO, and I hope to be helpful.

On Tuesday, September 29, I shall be starting a new series of articles that will deal with basic problems affecting workers and their unions—Harry Kelber

If you haven’t seen the Kelber video interview with Steve Zeltzer, a veteran video reporter, go to