Teamsters-led group seeks changes.

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LAS VEGAS — The AFL-CIO wants to boost political expenditures while a Teamsters-led group wants to focus on organizing efforts in the battle over how to revive and reform organized labor.

“It’s time for a change,” Teamsters President James Hoffa said Wednesday after a closed-door meeting of a committee of the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council. “We believe that a massive shift in resources and focus on organizing and growth is the only path to rebuilding worker power in the workplace and the political process.”

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The Teamsters-led group wants to rebate 50 percent of membership fees to bolster organizing efforts, but the leadership of the umbrella organization that represents 58 unions has a different vision.

“A long-term plan for greater political and legislative mobilization is essential to strengthen and build the labor movement,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a statement.

Hoffa was joined by the leaders of four other unions in a show of solidarity for their proposal to shake up the labor movement, which has been beset by shrinking membership in recent years and a period of introspection that followed the defeat of Democrat John Kerry in November. Joining the International Brotherhood of Teamsters were the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Food and Commercial Workers, Laborers International Union and UNITE HERE.

Labor poured unprecedented amounts of money and staffing into the 2004 elections, only to see the White House remain in Republican control and Democrats lose seats in Congress.

Hoffa said past advances by labor on health insurance, pensions, Social Security and a 40-hour workweek are “under attack today” and must be defended.

“We believe this can be accomplished only through a single-minded focus on rebuilding the strength of the American labor movement,” Hoffa said. “Continuing on our present course simply ensures further decline.”

Under his proposal, up to $47 million would be returned to the unions for organizing goals. The Teamsters would receive an additional $5 million to spend on recruiting members.

“We don’t get any strength unless we empower the workers we represent, and we go out and recruit more workers to organize,” said Joseph Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

But the Teamsters’ rebate proposal was defeated, 15-7, in a committee vote, while Sweeney’s proposal to emphasize political spending and organizing passed, 14-8.

On Wednesday, Sweeney’s forces defeated an effort, also in a 15-7 vote, led by SEIU President Andy Stern and Hoffa to shift $35 million of union funds into union-organizing. The dissident unions challenged federation policies under Sweeney and discussed the possibility of running a candidate against Sweeney.

At a news conference after Wednesday’s executive-committee vote, Stern declined to say what his plans are concerning his union’s continued affiliation with the AFL-CIO. In recent months, he warned he would pull the SEIU out of the AFL-CIO if major structural changes were not made.

Stern has called for more radical proposals than any under consideration at the Las Vegas meeting, including granting the AFL-CIO power to force union mergers to create institutions large enough to bargain with global corporations, and to empower the AFL-CIO to prevent unfair competition among member unions.

Stern said Sweeney’s approach will fail to revive organized labor, which represents 12.5 percent of the work force, the lowest level in a century. He said the $35 million sought by his forces was essential to rebuilding labor’s base.

“I don’t think there is a plan for organizing,” Stern said. He criticized the massive boost in political spending: “I do not put much faith in elected officials of either party.”

The Executive Council was scheduled to consider the proposals before it adjourned yesterday, but labor leaders said it would be unlikely the issue would be resolved before the group’s national convention in July, when Sweeney seeks re-election.

“There’s going to be a lot of discussion … between now and July,” Hoffa said. “The current debate is not about dollars. It’s about the vision for the future of the American labor movement.”

Andy Stern’s comments provided by The Washington Post.