Published December 20, 2016
A union of some 40,000 members said it was leaving the AFL-CIO because it disagrees with its positions on immigration and President Obama’s health care overhaul.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, or ILWU, said in a letter addressed to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka that they objected to the larger union’s support for a tax on health care plans as well as its support for immigration reform plans that did not sufficiently protect undocumented workers.
In the letter, the author, ILWU President Robert McEllrath, said: “The ILWU has also become increasingly frustrated with the Federation’s moderate, overly compromising policy positions on such important matters as immigration, labor law reform, health care reform, and international labor issues."
"We feel the Federation has done a great disservice to the labor movement and all working people by going along to get along.”
On health care, McEllrath said that Obama had promised during his campaign not to tax medical plans, and, he said, the AFL-CIO had vowed not to support a tax on benefits.
But then, he said, the AFL-CIO lobbied affiliate groups to support a tax on benefits, in direct contradiction of its stated positions.
Along those lines, other union leaders are watching the health care overhaul with similar concern, according to published reports. The Affordable Care Act, they note, may no longer allow trade union workers to use shared benefits plans, which cover a share of their health care costs.
Frustration over losing access to shared plans, the reports say, may also prompt these unions to leave the AFL-CIO.
As for immigration, McEllrath expressed frustration over the AFL-CIO’s embrace of a congressional comprehensive immigration reform measure that calls for a wait of some 13 years to obtain a so-called green card, and that “favors workers with higher education and profitability to corporations” at the expense of blue-collar immigrant workers “such as janitors,” according to his letter.
“We cannot continue to compromise on the issues that benefit and protect the working men and women of America,” the letter said.
An article in the Oregonian newspaper said that Tom Chamberlain, the president of the Oregon chapter of the AFL-CIO, characterized the ILWU's withdrawal from their union as unfortunate.
Chamberlain added, however, that AFL-CIO head Trumka was skilled at diffusing tension.
"Hopefully he can use some of that talent with the ILWU to find out what the true issues are and bring them back," he said.