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Xavier Hermosillo is the President of, a national Crisis Communications, Marketing, and Management firm he founded 23 years ago. He is a former political chief of staff, an award-winning reporter and photographer, and a former radio talk show host and TV commentator in Los Angeles. He has co-founded two publicly-traded companies where he served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications. He has also served as a Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission on police officer discipline cases, and holds degrees in Administration of Justice and Business and Communications. He can be reached at

August 7, 2005

One of the most fascinating stories to come along in a long time is the
one involving the rather historic break-up of the largest labor union
organization in America, the AFL-CIO. The move has spooked some
Democratic Party leaders and the ranks of organized workers, their
futures now in the hands of labor rebels who bolted the 50-year-old
federation vowing to reverse the steep decline in union membership.

Most of us who have ever worked in the electronic media or
entertainment, especially in larger urban markets, have been members of
either AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), or
SAG (Screen Actors Guild). If you have worked behind the scenes in
craft world, you may have been a member of the IBEW (International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or perhaps IATSE (International
Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).

My past also includes membership in the Los Angeles Newspaper Guild and
the United Industrial and Cannery Workers Union, when I packed
four-pound tuna cans into boxes and washed down the gutters of the old
fish canneries in L.A. Harbor many years ago. In fact, I come from a
strong union family and my Dad retired as a vice president of the
Cannery Workers Union and Seafarers International, so I understand what
labor is all about. It's in my blood, yes, my dues-paying Republican

Much of labor has lost its path in recent years and the bitter clash of
personalities and agendas split labor into rival camps, as two big
unions, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union
(SEIU), the country's largest union, broke from the AFL-CIO (American
Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations) to start
their own federation, the 'Change to Win Coalition.' At least two more
unions - the United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here, a union
of hospitality and textile workers ' are also breaking away. And this
is probably just the beginning.

This is costing the AFL-CIO about a third of its 13 million members and
will significantly strain its budget. The AFL-CIO already has had to
lay off a quarter of its Washington staff. The SEIU and Teamsters
alone account for more than $20 million of an estimated $120 million
AFL-CIO budget. That's a sizable chunk.

A lot of people don't seem to understand the break-up, but the
dissidents who left, and some analysts, say the split will spark
competition, a new devotion to unionizing, and eventually, more clout
to help working people at the workplace and in politics.

The split is simple to explain. The average union workers, I like to
call them 'Joe and Sally Six-Pack', got tired of having their union
dues spent on national elections or in other states instead of using
the money to strengthen the labor movement closer to home, increase
membership, and make local unions stronger.

Andy Stern, the president of the SEIU, the first to bolt the AFL-CIO,
amplified that point by saying, "Our goal is not to divide the labor
movement, but to rebuild it."

Instead of listening to the workers on the street, the national and
international bigwigs more and more began playing fat cats with
politicians and the leaders of business they were supposed to
challenge. They also were lining their pockets, forgetting about the
workers on the front lines and their needs.

Some of the biggest problems can be traced directly to John Sweeney,
the American Federation of Labor's portly president, who was elected 10
years ago as the 'reform' candidate. Imbued with a bureaucratic
leadership style, Sweeney's method of solving problems was to create
still another initiative, strategic group, study committee and new
staff positions, while ignoring proposals from dissident union members.
This is a bad way to do business with people who are paying you to
save their jobs, get them better wages and benefits, and keep jobs from
going non-union or overseas.

Sweeney's elaborate efforts of study committees and new staffers did
not prevent a series of expensive organizing failures that were kept
secret from the membership. But what Sweeney could not hide was that
during his 10-year tenure as AFL-CIO president, labor's percentage of
the nation's work force had dropped from 14.2%, when he took office, to
12.5%, with a meager 7.8% of those jobs being in the private sector.
And there was absolutely no significant legislative accomplishment for
the millions of dollars that the unions had spent on an agenda for
working families.

Even Sweeney's supporters concede that he is a bust as a public speaker
in an age where television and even the Internet demand more charisma
and charm. In the rare times Sweeney has appeared on a national talk
show, he comes across as a dull personality with a monotone voice and
few interesting things to say to a national audience. He lacks wit and
charm, and seems unable to respond to a tough question with a wisecrack
or a clever one-liner. He simply does not do well at communicating
both the woes and aspirations of working families. That's probably why
he shuns many opportunities to appear before the public to promote
labor's message.

His speeches are a total bore. He's guilty of constantly delivering
his messages loaded with horrific bureaucratic jargon, with rarely a
humorous comment that might evoke a smile. He never alludes to a great
philosopher, scientist, poet, painter or historical figure. Indeed,
the impression is that he doesn't read much of anything except staff
reports and memos. Does he have any cultural interests' He has never
exhibited any.

Yet, Sweeney felt he deserved to be re-elected to another four-year
term as AFL-CIO president and guess what' He won. He already had the
50% of the convention votes he needed to win. What that means is that
eight or ten of the presidents of the big unions, who each cast
hundreds of thousands of convention votes, were committed to giving him
their support to seal his victory.

Ordinary union members, of course, have no voice at the annual AFL-CIO
conventions. It is doubtful whether Sweeney could ever muster more
than 3% of the votes if the AFL-CIO elected its president in a
nationwide election, because he is not well-known or well-liked by the
rank and-file.

The remarkable thing is that, at least until this split came along,
there was never a single labor leader, knowing all of Sweeney's
shortcomings, who had the proverbial 'huevos' to oppose him. For a
while, the dissident group of union presidents was grooming one of
their own, John Wilhelm, the head of UNITE-HERE, a merged union of
garment and hotel workers, but Wilhelm held off, after counting noses
and finding he could get only about 35% of the vote.

The thought of Sweeney's impending re-election was the last straw for
Andy Stern at the SEIU, who had been threatening to pull out of the
AFL-CIO for many months and now made it fairly certain that he would
bolt, taking as many unions as he could into a new labor federation.
Stern was joined by his recently-acquired ally, Douglas McCarron,
president of the 500,000-member Brotherhood of Carpenters, who has a
well-founded reputation as one of the worst autocrats in the labor

They both saw the writing on the wall, that working families realized
that public sector jobs were not the answer because the taxpayers keep
a close watch on government growth and the trend has been for smaller
government and lower taxes, especially among union workers who were
being asked to fund higher government salaries and pension funds from
union paychecks that were shrinking and disappearing.

As American companies shut down factories in the U.S. and took
formerly-union jobs out of the country, U.S. labor movement supporters
demanded hard answers. They never came. In addition to globalization
issues, there was the ever-increasing use of automation and the
transition from an industrial-based economy that forced hundreds of
thousands of unionized workers out of jobs, weakening labor's role.

And while this is the biggest rift in organized labor since 1938, when
the CIO split from the AFL, supporters of the breakup note that labor
made big gains when the two groups competed. One of every three
private-sector workers belonged to a labor group when the AFL and the
CIO merged in the 1950s. Now, less than 8 percent of private-sector
workers are unionized.

The SEIU's Stern says the split 'represents not an accomplishment, but
simply an enormous opportunity, and a recognition that we are in the
midst of the most rapid transformative moment in economic history, and
workers are suffering.'

The break-away unions face tough times in making their break-away
efforts succeed. The future of the labor movement could be greatly
affected by the success or failure of Stern's effort to build a
coalition outside the AFL-CIO that dedicates more money and manpower to
recruiting union members while adjusting to demands of the global

Some of the people casting a wary eye at the break-away movement are,
of course, politicians who have been on the receiving end of that
national union money. Democratic candidates and political operations
that benefit the Democratic Party have to date, been the largest
beneficiaries of the national union bucks. Stern, Teamsters' union
boss James Hoffa and their colleagues in the Change to Win Coalition,
had repeatedly pushed the AFL-CIO to shift focus from such political
activity to recruiting new union members, contending that a growing
union movement would naturally increase its political and bargaining

Hoffa says they were repeatedly rebuffed, 'They said no. Their idea is
to keep throwing money at politicians.' Sweeney should have known
better than to ignore guys like Hoffa and Stern. It became obvious the
little guys in the trenches paying Sweeney and the other `execs at the
AFL-CIO were going to fight back. They did.

Now we will watch closely to see if Hoffa, Stern and their buddies
deliver on their promises to the masses or fall prey to the influence
of the greedy politicians who can't live without their regular fix of
union money.

This could be another beginning of the end for labor, or it could be
the first day of the rest of labor's resurgence and a victory for
helping union workers, instead of lining the pockets of sleazy
politicos and national union bosses like John Sweeney.