The AFL-CIO is enduring a budget shortfall so severe that its own workers are taking two days of unpaid leave to avoid layoffs, even as the labor federation attempts to mobilize its largest-ever political campaign.
The days off, dubbed "solidarity days," were agreed to in the summer during contract negotiations between managers and the union representing about 200 employees of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of 64 international unions. Managers also will take the unpaid time.
Other belt-tightening measures are being taken in response to a dismal economy that slammed many unions with layoffs and to enable the federation to launch a "do-or-die" election effort next year to defeat President Bush.
The number of potential layoffs was never discussed in the negotiations, said Deborah Weinstock, an AFL-CIO employee and a guild leader.
Lane Windham, a spokeswoman for the federation, said members of AFL-CIO-affiliated unions had been hit hard by the loss of 2.3 million jobs since January 2001, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which has slashed payrolls for 38 straight months.
Defeating Bush in 2004 has become a question of survival for organized labor. Union leaders maintain that Bush is determined to destroy the political power of unions.
"It's safe to say we will put as much as we possibly can of all of our resources into the political campaign," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.
Some union presidents have asked Sweeney to trim fat from the AFL-CIO's overall budget and to apply any savings to the federation's political program.
"I think we know that to be able to talk to our members, and in some cases nonunion voters, we're going to need a lot of resources to be heard," said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest in the AFL-CIO.
About $5 million was diverted from the labor federation's organizing efforts to help fund what Sweeney called "the biggest, earliest, most aggressive grass-roots political program in our history."
The federation has about $35 million budgeted for member mobilization and politics in the election cycle, Sweeney said. That's less than the $42 million spent in 2000. But some union presidents are pushing for a $45-million budget that also would help fund several of the union-run political nonprofit groups that have been created to turn out Democratic voters.
Labor leaders early next year will consider levying on affiliate unions another surcharge of 4 cents per member per month -- called a per-capita tax -- to raise funds.
"We're going to put together as strong a financial resource package" as possible, Sweeney said.
But the tax hike could encounter some resistance. The same surcharge was approved for the 2002 election cycle -- after grumbling from some unions -- and was supposed to pay for the political program through 2005.
Some unions find they are strapped for cash. The United Food and Commercial Workers, for instance, is pouring money into the nearly two-month labor dispute between grocery chains and about 70,000 workers in Southern and Central California.