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February 17, 2006

U.S. construction unions break off

WASHINGTON

In a new sign of dissatisfaction within U.S. organized labour, two national trade unions broke away this week from an alliance affiliated with the AFL-CIO after complaints about declining membership and misplaced priorities.

The Laborers International Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers, representing more than one million members, are breaking away from the umbrella group known as the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO as of March 1. The umbrella group still has 11 unions representing about two million workers.

The Laborers and Operating Engineers will join with four other unions in the construction business — the Teamsters, Carpenters, Iron Workers and Bricklayers unions — to form the National Construction Alliance, a confederation aimed at expanding union membership in the construction field. The new alliance will focus heavily on building union strength in almost 30 states where the construction business has low union membership.

“While the construction economy has grown, living and work standards for construction workers have fallen,” said Terence O’Sullivan, Laborers’ president.

Union representation among construction workers has fallen from 40 per cent in 1973 to 13 per cent now, he said.

O’Sullivan and Operating Engineers president Vincent Giblin said they were frustrated with the umbrella group’s lack of action to reverse declines in membership, outdated rules and priorities more focused on Washington politics than membership recruitment, workplace safety and job security.

Sean McGarvey, secretary-treasurer of the umbrella group losing two members, said: “It’s unfortunate they chose this time, with a great opportunity for the union construction trades to take advantage of this huge construction boom over the next five to 10 years.”

Associated Press

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