There was significant talk last year that the labor movement might reunify--that unions would re-affiliate with the AFL-CIO after having split to form a rival federation, Change to Win, in 2005. Now could be a critical moment in this process.


The man who led the 2005 schism, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern, is retiring. SEIU will elect its new president tomorrow, and by all indications it will be Mary Kay Henry, an SEIU executive vice president--the only person running for the position.

Henry, however, yesterday sent a note of solidarity--or assuagement--to Change to Win's leadership board, informing them a reafilliation with AFL-CIO is not, in fact, about to happen.

"SEIU has had no discussion about returning to the AFL-CIO," Henry wrote. "SEIU remains strongly committed to our relationship with our Change to Win partners and we look forward to strengthening those relationships in weeks and months to come." Here's a .pdf of the letter: Mary Kay Henry letter.PDF

In other words: we're not going to jump ship right now.

That doesn't mean it won't happen, eventually. Formal talks were opened last year, involving the heads of multiple unions, and while that formal dialogue has officially stalled, there may be behind-the-scenes chatter going on. Henry could still engage in a multilateral discussion process, as time goes on.

It seems unclear how Stern's retirement will affect the possibilities of reunification. He seems to get along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, despite any differences in opinion on strategy for the labor movement, though the 2005 split that Stern engineered has undoubtedly left a bad taste in many mouths. When you orchestrate a massive shift in power, it's hard not to become a divisive figure.

SEIU is an important player in this whole process. Other major unions are part of Change to Win, but Stern has led it, and Change to Win President Anna Burger (a Stern ally) is SEIU's secretary treasurer.

While Stern's official resignation would appear to be a convenient breaking point, at which to reimagine the American labor movement--a movement built on the ideas of unity and solidarity--into a unified force, Henry's letter indicates that it's not going to happen in the very short term. At least not this weekend.

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