AFL-CIO convention kicks off in Los Angeles

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, addresses members of the media Sunday on the first day of the labor federation's quadrennial convention.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, addresses members of the media Sunday on the first day of the labor federation’s quadrennial convention.
(Ricardo Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

The quadrennial AFL-CIO convention kicks off in Los Angeles on Sunday with the aim to coalesce unions and progressive groups who are here to strategize ways to reinvigorate the flailing labor movement.

With about 5,000 attendees expected to attend the gathering, labor leaders and others have prepared an agenda covering a variety of issues and resolutions that include immigration reform, voting rights, racial justice and the Affordable Care Act.

The convention has brought together new allies to the labor movement who are hammering out a workable plan to combine the memberships of unions and groups that include the Sierra Club, the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza.


Quiz: How well do you know California’s economy?

Among the problems facing the labor movement is declining membership. Overall, about 11% of workers are unionized, according to the most recent figures available. That’s quite a drop compared with 35% workers who were unionized in 1950.

“We’re in a crisis right now and none of us are big enough to change that crisis,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor federation.

New alliances are critical in order to strengthen the labor movement, Trumka said during a noon media briefing before the convention officially kicks off at 3 p.m. PDT.

“We plan to do things a little differently,” he said.

But bringing nonunion members into the fold has caused some division among AFL-CIO affiliates.

Some internal groups disagree with labor’s new allies on important issues. Construction-related affiliates, for instance, support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The Sierra Club opposes it.


The International Longshore and Warehouse Union recently cut formal ties with the AFL-CIO, withdrawing its 59,000 members from the affiliation on Aug. 29. In a letter explaining the group’s withdrawal, ILWU President Robert McEllrath complained that other AFL-CIO affiliates were warring with the ILWU, and that the AFL-CIO was not stepping in to help.

Trumka called that a “tragic situation” and said he had no idea the ILWU was planning on exiting the AFL-CIO.

During a roughly 30-minute briefing, Trumka answered questions about Syria, union-on-union raiding and who the labor federation believes should be picked to be the next Federal Reserve chair.

On Syria, the AFL-CIO hasn’t taken a position on whether the U.S. should take action against Bashar Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons on his own people. On how some unions have raided each other, he said “money spent on raids is precious resources wasted.”

Trumka said Janet L. Yellen “would be a tremendous Federal Reserve chair[woman].”

Later Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is expected to address the convention. Follow the Los Angeles Times’ Money and Co. blog for more coverage during the week. Follow reporter Ricardo Lopez @rljourno for live coverage.

Favorite Tweets by @latimesbiz



AFL-CIO seeks alliance with progressive groups

Fast-food workers across U.S. rally for $15 hourly pay

Port truck driver strike kicks off week of planned labor action