April 12, 2001

Dear Union Leader:

As you know, the AFL-CIO Constitution allows international unions to cast as many convention votes as they have members, as reflected in per capita payments to the federation, while each state federation and central labor council has only one delegate who casts a single vote (see Article IV, Sec. 9(a)).

Thus, an international union like the Federation of Professional Athletes, with only 1,700 members, has nearly three times the convention votes of all 50 state federations and all 575 central labor councils combined.

The hundreds of delegates from state and local bodies who attend AFL-CIO conventions are little more than window dressing. Their votes are nearly meaningless in election contests and roll-call balloting on policy resolutions, in which the largest international unions can cast hundreds of thousands of votes.

This egregiously unfair and discriminatory practice dates back to 1886, when the internationals that founded the American Federation of Labor insisted on tight controls over state and local affiliates. More than a century later, it is indefensible to deny state feds and CLCs a proper voice at conventions, especially since they now supply the front-line troops for every economic, social and political campaign the AFL-CIO undertakes.

At present, eight to ten of the largest unions have enough votes to determine the outcome of any election or roll call on any issue before the convention. Since the presidents of these international unions all sit on the Executive Council, they can effectively prevent any candidate from seeking a Council seat. Indeed, since the formation of the AFL-CIO in 1955, no officer of any state federation or central labor council has ever been elected to the Executive Council or even tried to become a candidate because it was impossible to win.

Council members, assured of automatic re-election, need not concern themselves with questions of accountability. They meet behind closed doors. They never reveal their differences of opinion. Their costly policy blunders and fizzled organizing efforts are shrouded in secrecy.

Most union members know nothing about what the Council does; even worse, they cannot identify most of its members. Yet, these 54 people comprise organized labor’s highest decision-making body, on whom working families must depend to fight for their needs.

It’s time to admit candidly that the Executive Council is a self-perpetuating oligarchy that does the labor movement incalculable harm by preventing talented and accomplished state and local leaders from aspiring to national leadership. It refuses to entertain fresh initiatives, no matter how worthy, unless they originate from the Council itself.

The Executive Council could redeem itself by approving a pre-convention resolution to amend the AFL-CIO Constitution at its quarterly meeting in Boston on April 30-May 1 so that every elected delegate will be entitled to only one vote.

Since the AFL-CIO convention (Dec. 4-7 in Las Vegas) is only seven months away, failure to act favorably on a “one delegate, one vote” resolution will signal that the Council intends to go ahead with another sham, automatic re-election of all incumbents by voice vote — without their having to say a word about their records during the past four years.

If the Council continues to sidestep this issue, I shall use every available means to shine a spotlight on its gross violations of union democracy. Whether you agree or disagree, I would appreciate hearing from you on these matters.


Harry Kelber, Editor

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