Sunday, May 22, 2016

Local Union Reorganization And The Big Money And Power Grab

In any representative system, there will always be what the French call “frisson” between an administration and its rank and file members, particularly in democratic systems in which the administration is regarded as a distributive mechanism in which the will of the rank and file is supposed to be faithfully represented by its elected or appointed representatives.

In national elections this year, both socialist Democrat Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – a sometime Democrat, sometime Republican – have exploited the gap that occasionally opens up between the electorate and the leaders of both political parties. But the gap is present in all representative organizations – including public worker unions in which union administration may occasionally wander from its democratic mandate.

That representational gap, a potentially explosive fissure within Connecticut unions, put forth steamy plumes of smoke and gas early in the administration of newly elected Governor Dannel Malloy when, following elaborate and secretive contract negotiations, a good many rank and file members of public worker unions felt that the Malloy administration and their own union representatives in SEBAC had been colluding to stiff the rank and file.

Connecticut Commentary noted at the time: “SEBAC leaders, working in tandem with Plan A salesmen in the administration of Governor Dannel Malloy, unilaterally changed union by-laws to reduce to 50 percent the votes necessary to pass Plan A after it had been rejected under previous inconvenient by-laws.”

Casting about for a scapegoat upon which they might pin their own Machiavellian attempt to fool all the rank and file some of the time, union leaders hit on The Yankee Institute. But the transparently absurd ploy didn’t work and, for a time, murmurs went around that some enraged rank and file members were in favor of ditching the union itself, which had become too clever for its own good, in favor a different union, a revolt in the ranks that was ultimately smothered.

Since that time, union administrators in Connecticut have been more circumspect: Significant changes in union policy and administration are sometimes shared with the rank and file through their delegate members.

At a recent March 2016 union meeting, President of Connecticut’s AFL-CIO Lori Pelletier addressed the members; the purpose of the meeting was to advise members of a “mandatory reorganization of all the Central Labor Councils (CLC’s).” The National AFL-CIO, Ms. Pelletier told the group, according to minutes of the meeting, “wants this reorganization to be completed by June of this year.”

Under the proposed reorganization, money and authority would flow from state CLC’s to an “area organization(s),” a new group of labor business administrators “which all the chapters are a part of,” according to a message issued by AFL-CIO Northeast Guild Officer Jan Schaffer.

The area organization, Ms. Schaffer noted, “would be responsible for reporting to both the national AFL-CIO and the IRS…  It would have a budget to work from, which would include money for program work such as local elections, affiliate contract campaigns or organizing campaigns, legislative fights, policy initiative, etc.

“The goal of reorganizing the CLC’s is to strengthen and coordinate the works at the local level – electorally, locally, and legislatively.”

And, of course, such goals can only be attained by moving money and decision making authority from statewide Central Labor Councils (CLC’s) to the new organizational entity controlled by “an executive board that is made up of the elected officers from each chapter [formerly a CLC]. The board would consider budgets from each chapter – including fixed costs, such as rent.”

Very big doings here: The proposed reform would accomplish the nationalization of Central Labor Councils,  a top-down rather than a bottom-up administrative re-configuration in which money and power – specifically the power of local-governance itself – would pass from CLC’s to an administrative apparat controlled by national AFL-CIO head-honchoes. The semi-independent CLC’s, responsive to rank and file union members, would become mere chapters in a book written by national AFL-CIO leaders. The reorganization would repeal the doctrine of subsidiarity, which holds that local governing entities are best able to determine their own fate and progress.

In large part, the nationalization of state labor councils is a money grab. Under the prevailing organization, labor union dues ordinarily pass from rank and file union members to local labor councils; under the new dispensation dues would flow directly to AFL-CIO’s national apparat, to be dispensed back to state Chapters – provided the state Chapters  tow the national political line. Connecticut’s rank and file, which early in the Malloy administration rebelled loudly against a non-representative leadership, soon would find that the power of their voice is intimately connected to the bank accounts managed by their local councils – which would be abolished under the new dispensation. There is a profound operative difference between a budget provided by others and a bank account administered by local councils.

Or, as Billie Holiday once put it, “Them that’s got shall get, them that ain’t shall lose. So the bible says, and it still is news.” Her song should become an anthem of resistance among the self-governing members – if there are any left – of the AFL-CIO.

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