The AFL-CIO Executive Council, the top decision-making body of the
labor federation, has remained a largely secretive group to the average
union member, who has no idea of how the federation's top leadership
functions. For one thing, the 51 members of the Council have been elected
and re-elected four times since 1995 without opposition at AFL-CIO
conventions, and without having to campaign or even utter a word about
their qualifications for a Council vice-presidency. And at a time when
organized labor was declining in numbers and bargaining power.
Council members remain virtually anonymous to union dues-payers. We do
not know how most of them look or what they've done or said for working
people. Council meetings are held behind closed doors, and whatever
statements it issues are almost always unanimous. We are not informed about
any differences of opinion or the views of a minority on any issue Policy
differences, when they occur, are not advertised, in accordance with a
"gentleman's agreement." If you really want to know what took place at the
Council meeting, you can find out from the George Meany archives in
Maryland - in 25 years.
Executive Council members rarely appear on talk shows and press
conferences to defend unions and rebut the arguments of anti-labor critics,
They have almost nothing to say on the AFL-CIO's web site (AFI-CIO Now).
Many of them are fearful about speaking to a large public audience. Thus,
right-wing commentators on radio and TV have a field day to bad-mouth
Council Meeting Avoids Many Major Economic Problems
Union members, especially the hundreds of thousands who lost their
homes and jobs, were probably eager to know what actions the Council took
at its two-day meeting in behalf of working families. Since the Council did
not release a summary of the meeting, the best they could do was to surf
the AFL-CIO website for information.
The three topics about the two-day meeting, featured on the website,
(1) Obama, in a video speech to the Council, is counting on the union
(2) "Executive Council Welcomes 3 New Members; Honors 4 Retiring
(3) "AFL-CIO Emphasizes Education for a 21st Century Workforce,"
featuring a new education and training initiative by the American
Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists and
However, if you clicked on a link on the website, you could see a list
of 15 policy statements adopted by the Council at its two-day meeting. The
statements, which include "Corporate Greed and Retirement Security," "Labor
Departments Secret OSHA Rule" and "The State and Local Fiscal Crisis" were
written by AFL-CIO staff people in advance of the meeting. They are each a
page or more of single-spaced text. It is highly doubtful if many of the
Council members read the text before giving their approval. The Council
also listed, without comment, some 20 additional policy statements that it
had approved at its March meeting,
How Council Members Get Re-elected Without Opposition
An outrageously undemocratic provision in the AFL-CIO Constitution
virtually guarantees that a bloc of presidents of large international
unions automatically win seats on the Executive Council. Under Article IV,
Section 4, each international union can cast the number of convention votes
equal to its entire membership, while each state federation and central
labor council is entitled to only one vote, no matter how large it is.
Here is an example of how it worked out in practice at the AFL-CIO's
2005 convention. State Feds and CLCs had a combined total of 475 convention
votes, while the American Federation of State, County and Municipal
Employees (AFSCME) had 1,300,873 votes and was entitled to 26 delegates.
Even a small union like the Asbestos Workers had 18,311 votes, nearly four
times the combined total of state federations and central labor councils.
Unless this absurd provision is eliminated from the Constitution and
replaced by one that states each delegate can have one - and only one -
vote, there will never be a free election for the AFL-CIO's top national
leadership. The Executive Council will remain a self-perpetuating,
Visit our web site at www.laboreducator.org.