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Representatives from unions vary on national split

July 27, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

Opinions about whether defections of two unions from the AFL-CIO would affect local unions differed among leaders Tuesday.

David Rodich, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 500, said he believed the unions that bolted from the AFL-CIO Monday would be better able to organize workers and build political power.

"I would anticipate that there will be a much higher level of coordination strategically around political work and organizing workers," Rodich said.

Don Forcino, president of Central Maryland AFL-CIO Labor Council, characterized the split as a "power struggle," but denied it would affect the local movement.

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"It's still business as usual. We're still going to represent the people that we represent in unions, including those that disaffiliated with the AFL-CIO," Forcino said.

Leaders of the Teamsters and service employees unions announced the split during AFL-CIO's 50th-annual convention Monday in Chicago.

Rodich said the local union voted to support the national union's decision to leave the AFL-CIO. He said the union still hopes to work with the AFL-CIO, but disagreed with its strategies.

The local union represents about 10,000 workers in Maryland and Washington, D.C., Rodich said. According to Rodich, members work in a variety of fields, including education. Many are school support staff, while others work in Head Start programs or as adjunct faculty at universities and colleges.

The union also includes workers in some nonprofit and mental-health agencies, Rodich said. The state's largest concentration of SEIU workers is in Montgomery County, Md.

The split will allow members of the Change to Win Coalition, which is led by SEIU President Andrew Stern, to better coordinate their activities, "rather than unions really competing with each other and splintering resources," Rodich said.

Labor leaders expect Change to Win Coalition members UNITE HERE and United Food and Commercial Workers to leave the AFL-CIO soon. Together, those organizations and the Teamsters and service employees unions represent one-third of the AFL-CIO's 13 million members.

According to the AFL-CIO Web site, about 16.1 million workers belong to unions in the United States.

Forcino, who belongs to United Steel Workers District 8, said the labor council still plans to maintain relationships with the unions that split. He believes the defections will have little impact locally.

According to Forcino, the labor council represents 18,000 active and retired workers in about 30 unions in Frederick and Washington counties.

"I don't know really what the Teamsters and the SEIU really are looking for. It seems more like a power struggle to me than anything else," said Forcino, who called the local unions "friends."

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