The heretofore untold story of how a 1997 Nevada organizing drive
could have avoided the current AFL-CIO split

Divorced Bedmates

Expanded from the 7-31-2005 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 9-4-2005

As this is written, four major unions have departed the umbrella of the national AFL-CIO. The Carpenters left in 2001, followed last week by the Teamsters, Service Employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

All the divorcees have criticized AFL-CIO President John Sweeney for devoting too much time and money to politics and not enough to recruiting new members. Reality is a bit more complicated.


National shakeup no big deal here?
It ain't necessarily so.
Las Vegas Review-Journal 8-1-2005

Las Vegas Business Press

NOTE: The above LVBP story requires a couple of clarifications. First, the comments of this website's editor are accurately typified in the column at left. My comments in the Business Press piece about the relationship between the AFL-CIO and central labor councils got a bit skewed in translation. Also, the LVBP leaves the impression that not much raiding is going on between unions. I informed them about the Carpenters' longrunning pattern of predation, news of which seems not to have reached academia. — AB

Rift tests Nevada solidarity
Jeff German, Las Vegas Sun, 7-29-2005

Unions are anything but united
Jeff German, Las Vegas Sun, 7-26-2005

Stern and Bush: Soulbrothers?
Some union members find Alternet editor's semi-joke not very funny.
Barbano response posted at above URL.

Alternet, 8-3-2005

First of all, the AFL-CIO organizes no one. That's not Sweeney's job. Organizing is almost always done by local unions with help from other worker organizations, community and religious groups.

If organizing is the problem, it could have been solved right here in Nevada in the late 1990s. That's when the maligned Mr. Sweeney, through the Building and Construction Trades Dept. of the AFL-CIO, earmarked more than $6 million for a two year program known as the Building Trades Organizing Project (BTOP).

On Sept. 4, 1997, I filed this report at "The Building Trades Organizing Project has generated more than 2,000 new Las Vegas union members since the first of the year. Headed up by the estimable Jim Rudicil of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the two-year, $6.3 million program aims to train thousands of organizers for every community in the United States. Rudicil was the IBEW's principal circuit-riding lecturer on COMET (Construction Organizing Membership Education Training) techniques. COMET basically teaches workers their rights under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and how to hold employers' feet to the fire for violating same.

"An informed worker is an empowered worker and COMET spreads unionism like wildfire. One carpenters union business agent told me that the campaign can spread so fast and ring in so many new members that it can overwhelm a local's administrative staff. When was the last time you heard unions complaining about too much business?

"Anti-union forces have yet to develop an effective response to COMET because the strategy simply utilizes existing law," I wrote.

I attended a 1994 Rudicil COMET seminar in Reno. He was the logical choice to head the Gomorrah South campaign, which was slated to move to other cities after the pilot run.

So what happened? The Claimjumpers Union queered the deal.

The AFL-CIO's principal task lies in arbitrating jurisdictional disputes, breaking up playground brawls between alpha males.

Any new LV recruits generated by Rudicil's project would become members of appropriate unions. But the Carpenters would not agree to abide by standard job descriptions. Rudicil needed them to swear off their old tricks of trying to define painters, iron workers, electricians, plumbers and everybody else as carpenters. When the Carpenters refused to play by the rules, other unions, burned by years of carpenter claimjumping, also refused to sign the non-aggression pact. As a result, BTOP signed up only a few thousand new members in the fastest-growing market in the country. It was quietly folded about 1999. BTOP did train lots of organizers, but could not spread nationally because the carpenters broke solidarity.

Properly implemented and adapted for non-construction unions, COMET would have flown like its name. Instead, a decade later, the national federation is breaking apart, led by those same Carpenters.

For the past three decades, whenever such schoolyard fights have broken out, Nevada labor leaders have always looked to cool-headed Dan Rusnak, now retired. As business manager of Laborers' Union Local 169, Rusnak served many years on the Nevada State AFL-CIO executive board and once led the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada.

"Unlike some, I don’t understand how diverting resources from the national AFL-CIO can help organizing any more than diverting funding from Social Security will cure its problems," Rusnak says. "The state and local central bodies that in some areas have been very useful both to organizing and political campaigns will be hurt by any fissure of the AFL-CIO. This will take away from and not add to organizing and politics." Rusnak added.

Unions are arguably the most regulated entities in the country. Unlike other private organizations, they are creatures of government and controlled by it. Other private groups, such as the Boy Scouts and the Augusta National Country Club, are free to make their own rules and discriminate against whomever they like. Not unions.

Failure to be politically active will result in unions being legislated out of existence. The U.S. already has the most repressive labor laws among all industrial nations. The only Saddam Hussein statute which the Bush puppet government retained was Iraq's ban on labor unions. Does that tell you anything about the intentions of the right wing moonhowlers now in control of all three branches of government?

High-priced union busting firms now number more than 10,000. One hired gun recently told the Los Angeles Times that he has warned his colleagues that they will have no more work within 10 years.

As the Zapatistas of Mexico's Chiapas state have proven, the trampling of worker rights and human rights breeds armed revolution. Congress is currently making sure that the flow of arms remains unimpeded. George Shultz, former budget director and secretary of state, defense and labor under Republican presidents, has said that unions are a basic necessity of freedom and democracy. (1) Conservative columnist George Will agrees. (2)

The ironic bottom line of this high-profile divorce is that the spouses may not share the same house, but they will continue in the same bed. Building trades unions still cooperate with the carpenters in organizing construction work and the claimjumpers must do the same. Only solidarity wins. No self-respecting union member would cross a Teamsters picket line just because they are no longer members of the AFL-CIO.

On the ground, it should make little difference. The four dropouts have taken their ball and gone home.

Now, they have to prove they are better at winning games.

MEDIA MOJO. Tune in Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers this Thursday at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV TV-4. Shad and Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Ray Hagar will interview Tom Schrade, President of Grand Sierra Resort Corp., the folks in the process of purchasing the unionized Reno Hilton. I'll join Shad and Hagar on Sam's peerless pundit panel with former Nevada Assembly Speaker Bob Barengo, D-Reno, and Mike Dillon, government affairs director of the Builders Association of Northern Nevada. Victims of Charter cable may view the same-day rerun at 9:30 p.m. on channel 12 in Washoe-Carson-Douglas. The statewide rebroadcast schedule will be linked to the Internet edition of this column.

Be well. Raise hell.


      1.  Silk, Leonard; "Worrying Over Weakened Unions"; Economic Scene; The New York Times; 13 Dec. 1991; page C2.

     George P. Shultz held four cabinet positions (state, treasury, labor and budget) under three Republican presidents. He has also served as a director of GM, Boeing, Chevron, Morgan Bank, Tandem Computers and construction giant Bechtel.
In a 1991 speech before the National Planning Association, Silk quoted Shultz as saying "the whole workplace is changing, the patterns of competition are changing." Shultz added that a balance of power in the workplace remains as necessary as ever.

      In "a healthy workplace, it is very important that there be some system of checks and balances...what used to be called the system of industrial jurisprudence...Free societies and free trade unions go together," Shultz stated.

      "As a society, we have a great stake in freedom and a lot of that is anchored, somehow, historically," in the labor movement, Shultz noted.

      "It is no accident, (Shultz) said, that the first thing a dictator does is to get rid of the free trade unions, if there are any," Silk reported. "'And it's not an accident,' (Shultz) added, 'that a lot of the fire for what happened in Eastern European countries came out of a trade union, Solidarity.' Societies that lack the kind of organization that will 'really get up on its hind legs and fight about freedom' are missing something," Shultz asserted.

      2. "The right of labor to organize is as sharp a chisel as the right to emigrate is for cracking the concrete of tyranny. In America, (Solidarity trade union leader and future president of Poland) Lech Walesa has been toasted by, among others, conservatives who only value unions abroad. Conservatives should ask the bartender at the country club to uncork some champagne so they can offer a quiet toast to organized labor. It has made capitalism a more marketable idea by making it a less traumatic system." (Will, George; "Solving the assembly line backache"; Washington Post Writers Group; Las Vegas Sun; 17 November 1989.)

...and more ammo

      A free and fair society stands balanced on a tripod of business, labor and government. In this country today, labor has been severely weakened and government is under constant assault. Big Labor no longer exists. At its peak in 1953, it represented only about one in three American workers. Today, it is one in eight. As a result, the middle class has withered and families have fractured. | U-News
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Copyright © 2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988. "Labors' Love Lost" headline written by Travus T. Hipp.

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