Another Union Rejoins AFL-CIO

The 500,000-strong Laborers' International Union of North America (aka LiUNA) rejoined the AFL-CIO today, breaking ties with Change to Win, the competing labor federation that formed in 2005 when the labor movement split apart.

While this development isn't terrifically significant for the world of domestic politics, it is notable because it fits within a narrative of change for organized labor. And with union membership quite low, at 12% nationally, each development counts.

Mostly, this is interesting because it's happened after a string of significant events:

1) In September 2009, Unite-HERE (which represents workers in the hotel, food service, and gaming industries, among others) became the first union to break away from Change to Win and rejoin the AFL-CIO after a bitter feud between Unite-HERE's two fused halves. The AFL-CIO and its new president, Richard Trumka--who had been elected the day before--celebrated this as a victory over the rival federation.

2) Talk bubbles up of labor reunification with Trumka now heading AFL-CIO and a new Democratic administration in place. Some dialogue is initiated between the two sides; nothing concrete happens.

3) In April of this year, Andy Stern announced his pending retirement as president of the Service Employees International Union, and in  Stern was the man who drove the split in 2005, taking SEIU and several other major unions away from AFL-CIO and forming Change to Win in the first place, with a stated mission of returning focus to organizing. The rivalry between SEIU/Change to Win and the AFL-CIO was at times bitter, and Stern was at the center of it. Of all the labor leaders, Stern appeared to be closest to the Obama White House. He had worked with Trumka and the two appeared to get along. In May, SEIU ushered in its new president, Mary Kay Henry.

4) Last Wednesday Change to Win's chair, Anna Burger, announced her retirement. Burger had worked closely with Stern over the years and served as secretary-treasurer of SEIU. She was #2 to Stern in the Change to Win/SEIU power complex.

So another Change to Win union has rejoined the AFL-CIO after the two main figures of labor's schism and subsequent retrenchment--Stern and Burger--have both moved on. Reunification still does not appear imminent, and LIUNA's 500,000 members doesn't heavily affect membership numbers: before today, AFL-CIO claimed 8.5 million union members, plus the 3 million non-union members of Working America with whom the AFL-CIO communicates about its issues, and Change to Win claimed 5.5 million. Change to Win, which began with seven unions including SEIU, is now left with five, though the big ones, the Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers, haven't budged.