The Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, the largest AFL-CIO affiliate with 1.8 million members, intended to announce Monday that they are leaving the federation after failing to reform the 50-year-old labor giant, according to several labor officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Back in the 1950s, one out of every three American workers wore the union label, reports CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers. These days, that number is just one in ten.
The dissident unions blame the steep decline on the current AFl-CIO leadership and its failure to deal with the change from an industrial based economy.
The unions are part of the Change to Win Coalition, seven labor groups vowing to accomplish what the AFL-CIO has failed to do: Reverse the decades-long decline in union membership. But many union presidents, labor experts and Democratic Party leaders fear the split will weaken the movement politically and hurt unionized workers who need a united and powerful ally against business interests and global competition.
Two other Change to Win Coalition unions signaled their intentions to leave the AFL-CIO: United Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE, a group of textile and hotel workers. But they were not scheduled to take part in Monday's news conference, said the officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the developments prior to the news conference.
The four dissident unions, representing nearly one-third of the AFL-CIO's 13 million members, announced Sunday they were boycotting the federation's convention which begins Monday, a step that was widely considered to be a precursor to leaving the federation.
"Our differences are so fundamental and so principled that at this point I don't think there is a chance there will be a change of course," said UFCW President Joe Hansen.
Leaders of the dissident unions say the AFL-CIO was beyond repair from within. In addition to seeking the ouster of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, they demanded more money for organizing, power to force mergers of smaller unions and other changes they say are key to adapting to vast changes in society and the economy.
AFL-CIO vice president Linda Chavez-Thompson told a rally Sunday that despite the labor rift, the federation is still strong.
"The unions and the union members of the AFL-CIO stand together, fight together, and no one can tear us apart — no one!" she said.
Sweeney, who was expected win re-election this week, said he had met many of the dissidents' reform demands, and suggested they had put their egos ahead of workers' interests.
"It's a shame for working people that before the first vote has been cast, four unions have decided that if they can't win, they won't show up for the game," Sweeney said. The rhetoric was unusually personal, in part because dissident leader Andy Stern of the SEIU is a former Sweeney protege.