American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly AFL-CIO, is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of 56 national and international unions (including Canadian), together representing more than 10 million workers. It was formed in 1955 when the AFL and the CIO merged after a long estrangement. From 1955 until 2005, the AFL-CIO's member unions represented nearly all unionized workers in the United States. The largest union in the AFL-CIO is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with more than a million members, since 2005 when several large unions split away from AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO is a federation of international labor unions. As a voluntary federation, the AFL-CIO has little authority over the affairs of its member unions except in extremely limited cases (such as the ability to expel a member union for corruption (Art. X, Sec. 17) and enforce resolution of disagreements over jurisdiction or organizing). As of January 2007, accounting for the disaffiliation of the Change to Win Federation unions, the AFL-CIO had 54 member unions.
Membership in the AFL-CIO is largely unrestricted. Since its inception as the American Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO has supported an image of the federation as the "House of Labor"—an all-inclusive, national federation of "all" labor unions. Currently, the AFL-CIO's only explicit restriction on membership excludes those labor unions whose "policies and activities are consistently directed toward the achievement of the program or purposes of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedom of association..." (Art. II, Sec. 7). Under Art. II, Sec. 4 and Sec. 8, the AFL-CIO has the authority to place conditions on the issuance of charters, and formally has endorsed the policy of merging small unions into larger ones. In 2001, the AFL-CIO formally established rules regarding the size, financial stability, governance structure, jurisdiction, and leadership stability of unions seeking affiliation. And although the AFL-CIO constitution permits the federation to charter Directly Affiliated Local Unions, the AFL-CIO has largely refused to charter such unions since the 1970s.
Some of the current member unions are listed in section Member unions.
The AFL-CIO is governed by its members, who meet in a quadrennial convention. Each member union elects delegates, based on proportional representation. The AFL-CIO's state federations, central and local labor councils, constitutional departments, and constituent groups are also entitled to delegates. The delegates elect officers and vice presidents, debate and approve policy, and set dues.
Current officers are:
The AFL-CIO membership also elects 43 vice presidents at each convention, who have a term of four years. Election is by plurality, with the top 43 candidates with the highest votes winning office. Article VI, Sec. 5, of the AFL-CIO constitution permits the president of the federation to appoint up to three additional vice presidents during the period when the convention is not in session, in order to increase the racial, gender, ethnic and sexual diversity of the executive council.
The three officers and the vice presidents form the executive council, which is the federation's governing body between quadrennial conventions. It is required to meet twice a year, and in practice meets four or five times a year. It passes resolutions, directly oversees AFL-CIO's legislative program, and has other duties. In 2005, the AFL-CIO constitution was changed to permit the executive council to form "Industrial Coordinating Committees" based on geography, employer, occupation or other appropriate subdivisions to coordinate the organizing and collective bargaining work of the member unions.
The duties of state federations differ from those of CLCs. State federations tend to focus on state legislative lobbying, statewide economic policy, state elections, and other issues of a more over-arching nature. CLCs tend to focus on county or city lobbying, city or county elections, county or city zoning and other economic issues, and more local needs.
Both state federations and CLCs work to mobilize members around organizing campaigns, collective bargaining campaigns, electoral politics, lobbying (most often rallies and demonstrations), strikes, picketing, boycotts, and similar needs.
Although the AFL-CIO constitution requires that all state and local unions affiliate with the appropriate state and local AFL-CIO body, in practice this is not enforced. Many unions do not affiliate with their state federation or CLC, or affiliate only a portion of their membership, leaving state feds and CLCs chronically short of funds.
Interestingly, the AFL-CIO constitution permits international unions to pay state fed and CLC dues directly, rather than have each local or state fed pay them. This relieves each union's state and local affiliates of the administrative duty of assessing, collecting and paying the dues. International unions assess the AFL-CIO dues themselves, and collect them on top of their own dues-generating mechanisms or simply pay them out of the dues the international collects. But not all international unions pay their required state fed and CLC dues.
State federations and CLCs are historically important to the AFL and its successor, the AFL-CIO. George Meany, for example, had little experience as a union member or local union leader, but rose quickly to the top of the AFL-CIO due to his effectiveness as president of the New York State AFL. During the AFL's early history, when the federation remained as apolitical as possible, state feds were the legislative dynamos—lobbying for workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, child labor laws and the minimum wage. But in the 1970s and 1980s, state feds and CLCs became organizational backwaters. They were revitalized beginning in 1995, when John Sweeney campaigned heavily for their votes in his successful quest to unseat AFL-CIO interim president Thomas R. Donahue. Sweeney has continued to emphasize them throughout his presidency.
Currently, Art. XII establishes seven departments, but allows the executive council or convention of the AFL-CIO to establish others. Each department is largely autonomous, but its must conform to the AFL-CIO's constitution and policies. Each department has its own constitution, membership, officers, governance structure, dues and organizational structure. Departments may establish state and local bodies. Any member union of the AFL-CIO may join a department, provided it formally affiliates and pays dues. The chief executive officer of each department is may sit in on the meetings of the AFL-CIO executive council, and departments have representation and voting rights at the AFl-CIO convention.
One of the most famous departments was the Industrial Union Department (IUD). It had been constitutionally mandated by the new AFL-CIO constitution created by the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955, as CIO unions felt that the AFL's commitment to industrial unionism was not strong enough to permit the department to survive without a constitutional mandate. For many years, the IUD was a de facto organizing department in the AFL-CIO. For example, it provided money to the near-destitute American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as it attempted to organize the United Federation of Teachers in 1961. The organizing money enabled the AFT to win the election and establish its first large collective bargaining affiliate. For many years, the IUD remained rather militant on a number of issues. It provided to be a center of opposition to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, and was abolished in 1999.
As of January 2007, there are six AFL-CIO constitutionally mandated departments:
Although constituency groups are not explicitly mentioned in the AFL-CIO constitution, the AFL-CIO exercises its general authority under Article XII to establish them in much the same way that it establishes other departments. Each constituency group has its own charter, officers, governance structure, etc., as constitutionally mandated departments do. They also have the right to sit in on AFL-CIO executive council meetings, and have representational and voting rights at AFL-CIO conventions. Many constituency groups are not self-sustaining and receive significant funding from the AFL-CIO.
As of January 2007, there are seven constituency groups within the AFL-CIO:
"Allied organizations" are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations chartered and funded by the AFL-CIO to serve certain policy goals of the federation. They have evolved in a number of ways. For example, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity started out as the Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC), an "independent" organization funded and controlled by the AFL to promote anti-communist labor unions overseas. However, the Working for America Institute started out as a nonconstitutional department of the AFL-CIO. Established in 1958, it was previously known as the Human Resources Development Institute (HRDI). President Sweeney renamed the department and spun it off as an "independent" organization in 1998 to act as a lobbing group to promote economic development, develop new economic polices, and lobby Congress on economic policy.
Although allied organizations are not explicitly mentioned in the AFL-CIO constitution, the AFL-CIO exercises its general authority under Article XII to establish them in much the same way that it establishes other departments. Each allied organization has its own charter, officers, governance structure, etc., as constitutionally mandated departments do. However, they do not have the right to sit in on AFL-CIO executive council meetings, and do not have representational or voting rights at AFL-CIO conventions. The current three allied organization are all self-sustaining. Their boards are interlocking with the AFL-CIO executive council.
As of January 2007, there are three allied organizations:
"Allied groups" are organizations that have more informal relationships to the AFL-CIO. Some, like the Labor and Working-Class History Association, are truly independent organizations that wish to work very closely with the AFL-CIO and promote its mission and goals. Others, like American Rights at Work, are independent in name only; they are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations with their own articles of incorporation, charter, governance structure, etc., but are funded largely by the AFL-CIO, and their boards are dominated by its directors. Others are plainly programs of the AFL-CIO operated as federation-wide, cross-cutting organizations serving AFL-CIO goals (such as disaster relief or member mobilization apart from legislative or organizing work). These programs have little or no staff (often using staff already employed by the AFL-CIO), and little or no need for funding (or using funds provided on an as-needed basis through existing AFL-CIO budgets).
As of January 2007, there are four allied groups:
"Programs" are organizations established and controlled by the AFL-CIO to serve certain organizational goals. Because of legal requirements (such as federal and state securities laws), they are truly independent organizations. But their governance structures are either dominated by or have sizable blocks of AFL-CIO directors, which effectively direct them to implement policies favored by the AFL-CIO.
Programs serve a variety of goals. For example, the AFL-CIO Building Trust enables union pension and health funds to invest in the for-profit Building Investment Trust. The Trust then uses this capital to construct office buildings, hotels, housing developments, and other capital construction. Some profits are kept by the Trust to build its investment capabilities, the rest are distributed to the investors. Other programs serve goals such as the banking needs of individual union members (AFL-CIO Credit Union) or to provide credit card and other consumer services (Union Privilege).
As of January 2007, there were five programs of the AFL-CIO:
In 2003, the AFL-CIO began an intense internal debate over the future of the labor movement in the United States with the creation of the New Unity Partnership (NUP), a loose coalition of some of the AFL-CIO's largest unions. This debate intensified in 2004, after the defeat of labor-backed candidate John Kerry in the November 2004 U.S. presidential election. The NUP's program for reform of the federation included reduction of the central bureaucracy, more money spent on organizing new members rather than on electoral politics, and a restructuring of unions and locals, eliminating some smaller locals and focusing more along the lines of industrial unionism.
In 2005, the NUP dissolved and the Change to Win Federation formed, threatening to secede from the AFL-CIO if its demands for major reorganization were not met. As the AFL-CIO prepared for its 50th anniversary convention in late July, three of the federations' four largest unions announced their withdrawal from the federation: the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("The Teamsters"), and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). The Laborers' International Union of North America and the United Farm Workers remain members of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation.
In addition to the issues listed above, the dispute was seen as deeply personal. SEIU President Andy Stern, the most outspoken leader of the Change to Win coalition, was once considered the protege of former SEIU President and current AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney.