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Splinter union returns to fold

It’s one of six that left AFL-CIO in ’05

WASHINGTON – The Laborers’ International Union has agreed to rejoin the AFL-CIO, sparking hopes that a once-splintered labor movement is moving closer to reuniting under a single umbrella.

“We are very excited that the labor movement is headed toward becoming more unified just as we need it the most,” Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, said Friday in a statement issued to the Associated Press.

Laborers spokesman David Miller declined to confirm the decision, but said leaders of the 800,000-member union representing construction workers would have more to say after a meeting on Sunday. Trumka told the AFL-CIO’s executive council last week that the move would become final in October.

The Laborers and five other unions bolted from the federation in 2005 in a bitter dispute that damaged the AFL-CIO’s political heft and sapped millions in dues from its budget.

Led by Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern, the breakaway unions formed the rival Change to Win federation amid complaints that the AFL-CIO wasn’t doing enough to organize new workers and halt the steady decline in union membership and influence.

Trumka has made a major push for unity since he was named AFL-CIO president last September, rekindling closer relationships with SEIU, the Teamsters, the United Food & Commercial Workers and the United Farm Workers – the four remaining Change to Win members.

The Laborers are the second union to come back to the AFL-CIO. Last year, the union of hotel, restaurant and clothing workers known as UNITE HERE also rejoined.

While Change to Win has helped its unions become more sophisticated and aggressive in organizing drives, critics say it never became a viable challenger to the 55-year-old AFL-CIO as a new model for organized labor.

“It’s an organization that never really got off the ground,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Everything Change to Win did could have been done inside the AFL-CIO.”

But the four remaining unions in Change to Win have given no indication they are ready to make that move yet.


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