Labor split means new allegiances for workers

Brandon Johnson

The recent split in the AFL-CIO will mean different things for local union members.

Some local workers are members of the defecting unions, and others are part of unions that plan to stay with the AFL-CIO.

Workers at Trapper Mine are represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers, which is staying with the AFL-CIO, while workers at the Craig Safeway are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which announced plans to leave the AFL-CIO.

The Teamsters and Service Employees International Union announced their split from organized labor’s largest governing body last week. The Teamsters, SEIU and UFCW plan to dedicate more of their efforts to organizing nonunion workers.

Everet Hess, a former Trapper Mine employee now working for the IUOE, said he isn’t sure what to think about the split.

“I don’t know which way to view it,” Hess said.

The IUOE represents 120 hourly employees at Trapper Mine.

Hess said it’s hard to tell right now how the split will affect the future of organized labor in America, but he worries about the effect fighting between unions could have.

“Sometimes organized labor is its own worst enemy,” Hess said.

One of the biggest effects the split will have is on local labor councils, which are composed of members from various unions. The labor councils make a variety of local decisions, including political endorsements.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said last week that members of the dissenting unions must pull out of local labor councils.

Hess said the Western Slope labor council will lose members.

“But that doesn’t mean we won’t still work with them,” Hess said. He plans to work with members of defecting unions any way he can.

Burt Clements, a Yampa Valley Electric Association mechanic who was instrumental in busting YVEA’s union a few years ago, said he doubts the split will have much of an effect on average union workers.

“I don’t think it’s going to make any changes,” Clements said.

Clements said he has mixed feelings about unions in general, but thinks a split at organized labor’s highest levels will wear on union members’ confidence.

“People are looking at this wondering what’s going to happen,” Clements said. “It makes you wonder if you’re going to be represented the way you want to be represented.”

Jim Mathewson, director of UFCW Local 7 in Denver, which represents the Craig Safeway, said the split is an unfortunate development, but he thinks changes had to be made.

“The AFL-CIO has done a lot of good things for the labor movement,” Mathewson said. “But sometimes, you need new ideas.”

Mathewson said, in the short term, most union members won’t notice any changes as a result of the split.

But, in the long run, Math-ewson said union members will notice the effects of the split, primarily because he expects union membership to grow.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031 or

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