Senator Barack Obama at an AFL-CIO rally in April. (Photo: Getty Images)
Denver - After years of hard feelings following a difficult split, the nation's organized labor movement came back together Sunday at the Democratic National Convention to urge its members to vote for Barack Obama in hopes of changing the nation's labor policies.
Leaders from the AFL-CIO and Change to Win shared a stage together at a labor rally for Obama, touting their unity in the first presidential election since the labor movement split into two factions. The Change to Win unions defected from the AFL-CIO in 2005.
"It is important to know that we are united in our determination to turning around America," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "And by united, I mean all of us, the AFL-CIO, the NEA, Change to Win - 17 million members, 38 million potential voters in union households."
The AFL-CIO is the nation's largest labor organization, with 56 member unions. Sweeney even introduced Change to Win Chair Anna Burger by calling her "formidable." But they didn't hug, as other people on the stage did.
"We need to work our butts off" for Obama, Burger said. "I know we can count on the NEA, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win."
"I almost feel sorry for the other party," said National Education Association President Reg Weaver, who did get a hug from Burger.
Change to Win is made up of seven former AFL-CIO unions: UNITE HERE, Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and the United Farm Workers.
They broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005 over internal disagreements on how best to build organized labor's membership and political clout.
The split is permanent, Burger said. "We have no intention of going back," she told reporters on Sunday.
But both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win say they plan to work together to elect Obama and Democrats in this year's election, just as they did in the 2006 elections when the Democrats took over the House and Senate.
"You'll see us working together where we can," Burger told reporters before the rally.
As Sweeney was speaking at the rally, the AFL-CIO mailed out a million flyers to voters in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin touting Obama.
Union members made up 12.1 percent of the working population in 2007. They members made up 20 percent of the work force in 1983.
Despite their decline in numbers nationwide, union members still have major clout inside the Democratic Party. Union delegates represent one fourth of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and organized labor is expected to pump more than $200 million into Democratic coffers by Election Day.
Union voters also are reliable Democratic supporters, and the AFL-CIO expects one in every four voters going to the polls on Nov. 4 to be from a union household.
Burger, Sweeney and Weaver are all speaking to the Democratic National Convention: Weaver on Monday and Burger and Sweeney on Tuesday.
On the Net:
AFL-CIO: www.aflcio.org Change to Win: www.changetowin.org National Education Association: www.nea.org