It was only a few months after they had won their first election that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka decided they wanted to expand their term of office from 2 years to 4 years as head of the AFL-CIO. .
But if they announced their intentions long before the 1997 convention, there might be a firestorm of protest. They would be accused of preparing a power grab. Opposition groups would quickly make their proposal an issue at the Pittsburgh convention. It might hurt their chances for re-election
So rather than risk the possibility of defeat, they decided to bury their four-year proposal in silence. Complete silence. It was not mentioned on the AFL-CIO web site, or on official statements, press releases or educational materials.
Neither Sweeney nor Trumka ever mentioned their self-serving proposal, right up to the first day of the 1997 convention, when it was sprung on the unsuspecting delegates as an Amendment to the AFL-CIO Constitution.
The Constitutional Amendment for a four-year term first appeared as Nos. 7 and 8, and was then changed to Proposed Constitutional Amendment A, to make clear that AFL-CIO conventions will still be held every two years
Here is a verbatim account of how this historic change in the AFL-CIO was approved:
[Former Teamster President Ron] "CAREY: The motion to adopt proposed Substitute Convention A and to take no further action on Proposed Constitutional Amendments No. 7 and 8. Is there a second?
"The motion was seconded by several unidentified delegates.
"CAREY: Is there any discussion?
"The question is on the adoption of Proposed Substitute,
"Constitution Amendment A, and to take no further action on Proposed Constitutional Amendments No. 7 and 8. All those in favor will signify by saying Nay?"
"The motion is carried." (Applause)
The Vote Was Clearly Illegal and Violated Trade Union Principles
There was not even a call for a quorum before the vote was taken. I was there, covering the convention as a reporter, and I saw a large number of delegates outside the hall, smoking, talking and just milling around.
Inside the hall, many of the delegates did not realize what they were voting for. There was confusion over the nature of the proposed constitutional amendments. Delegates had no time to check with each other how they felt about them.
Even if there was a quorum, it is a violation of the AFL-CIO Constitution to approve an amendment by voice vote.