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Carpenters Union Joins Breakaway Labor Group

The main national carpenter's union is joining a coalition of some of the nation's largest unions challenging the AFL-CIO's (search) approach to leading the labor movement.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America broke away from the labor federation in 2001, saying it was shifting more of its resources to organizing and was impatient for the AFL-CIO to do the same.

"The Carpenters' Union is proud to join with the most dynamic unions in the country," President Doug McCarron said in a release obtained by The Associated Press. A formal announcement was planned for Monday.

The carpenters will join with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers, Unite Here and Laborers' International Union in the alliance called the Change to Win Coalition. The movement was created in mid-June to challenge the AFL-CIO's leadership.

Teamsters' President James P. Hoffa (search) said: "We are proud to be joining with the carpenters' union because the status quo can no longer stand." Laborers President Terence M. O'Sullivan praised the carpenters' union move as strengthening the coalition's potential to unite workers and win them stronger pay and benefits.

The development comes the same day that the AFL-CIO's executive council plans to consider the budget and future plans of the federation of unions. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (search) is urging the unions in the coalition not to splinter labor's strength by breaking away.

Sweeney said last week that "only our enemies are cheering" for divisions in the labor movement.

AFL-CIO spokeswoman Lane Windham said the AFL-CIO will be dealing with important resolutions and constitutional amendments at the meeting Monday. "That's the issue to watch if you're interested in the labor movement."

The unions in the rebel coalition blame Sweeney's 10-year tenure for declining union membership and fewer worker protections. They say the AFL-CIO has wasted too much time and money on politics and has not done enough to combat the steady decline in union membership.

Union membership has been on a downward slide for 50 years, now representing 12.5 percent of all U.S. workers, and less than that among employees in the private sector. A half-century ago, one-third of private-sector workers belonged to unions.

The 1.8 million-member SEIU wants the AFL-CIO to cut its budget by more than 50 percent and use the savings to increase organizing by its member unions.

The dissident unions are considering whether to leave the AFL-CIO unless dramatic changes are made in the federation's approach to organizing and political activity.

The presidents of the six coalition unions planned to meet Monday afternoon with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

The addition of the carpenters' union with its approximately 520,000 members brings the number of workers represented by unions in the coalition to nearly 6 million. The AFL-CIO is a federation of almost 60 unions with a total of roughly 13 million members, including those in the dissident unions.