When it formed in 2005, the Change to Win coalition was heralded as a dynamic organizing force that would rejuvenate the labor movement and swell membership rolls for constituent unions. However, U.S. Department of Labor figures show that only one union organization has benefitted from its affiliation with Change to Win while the others have lost out.
The Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) membership has risen from about 1.5 million to more than 1.8 million and its annual receipts are up to about $75 million since 2005, according to government records. SEIU has in turn contributed $5.7 million to support the coalition, which is far more than any other coalition member. By contrast, the other six unions that split off from the AFL-CIO to form Change to Win have either flatlined or declined.
In 2006, the first year Change to Win filed Labor Department financial disclosure forms, the coalition claimed over 5.3 million members but its most recent filing in 2008 shows it had less than 4.8 million members; that’s a decline of almost 11 percent. In 2006, Change to Win listed $11.7 million in assets, a figure that dropped to $8.8 million in 2008. During that time, liabilities spike by more than 130 percent from about $550,000 in 2006 to more than just $1.25 million in 2008.
Annual receipts have also plummeted, falling from $18.7 million in 2006 to just $6.5 million in 2008. In 2006, revenues far exceeded expenditures, but this ratio was turned upside down in 2008 with Change to Win’s spending outpacing its revenues.
“Despite being a coalition of several unions, Change to Win has been of material benefit to one union only, and that is the SEIU,” Glenn Spencer, the executive director of the Workforce Freedom Initiative with the Chamber of Commerce has observed. “The coalition started with great fanfare and was meant to be an alternative to the AFL-CIO – the new front of labor organizing, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. It’s now an organization struggling to justify its existence.”
Instead of serving as a catalyst for a renewed labor movement, Change to Win has evolved into a vehicle for enhancing the power of the SEIU and its former president Andy Stern who is still listed as part of the coalition’s leadership council.
“The best evidence we have to show that Change to Win is really a union of one is the common personnel between the two organizations,” said Nathan Mehrens, a counsel with Americans for Limited Government. “Anna Burger is both the Secretary/Treasurer of SEIU and the Chairman of Change to Win. Then we have Stern who was the SEIU President until a few weeks ago and it appears he is still an active board member with Change to Win.”
Over the past few years, SEIU has also served as the number one union benefactor for the ACORN organization and its affiliates donating $8.7 million since 2005, disclosure documents reveal. Change to Win also emerged as one of the single largest donors to the network of community activists formerly known as the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now.
In 2009, Change to Win funneled $181,355 into an ACORN California affiliate for representational activities and $40,000 into a Washington State affiliate. In 2008, the coalition donated $45,000 to the Washington affiliate and $7,800 to a branch in Oakland, Calif.
An internal memo The Politico recovered last year from ACORN’s California branch shows that the organization’s leadership has recognized for some time now that its tarnished name could complicate fund raising efforts and undermine support on Capitol Hill. Apparently ACORN and its number one union benefactor both see great value in operating under different names so as to avoid media scrutiny and deflect criticism.
“SEIU views Change to Win as a useful mouthpiece and it can use it as a pathway to funnel money to shady groups like ACORN without putting its own name on the check,” Spencer suggested.
UNITE-HERE, the International Brotherhood (IBT) of Teamsters, the Laborers’ International Union of Northern America (LIUNA), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), the United Food and Commercial Works (UFCW) are also part of the original Change to Win coalition.
However, UNITE-HERE virtually collapsed during the time it was partnered with Change to Win losing almost 90,000 members, according to disclosure records. This was particularly acute blow in that UNITE-HERE was viewed as a model for the new organizing methods championed by Change to Win. The merger between textile workers (UNITE) and hospitality workers (HERE) would produce a single strong union out of two weaker ones that would be in a better position to pressure employers, or so the thinking went.
A little history is in order here.
While speaking at a July 25, 2005 press conference that addressed coalition’s formation, the top officials associated with Change to Win issued a number of audacious pronouncements that do not square with financial reality.
“Our goal is not to divide the labor movement, but to rebuild it so working people can once again achieve the American Dream,” Stern declared.
James Hoffa, the Teamsters president, was equally audacious. “Today’s decision means that we have chosen a course of growth and strength for the American Labor Movement based on organizing new members…This is just the beginning of a new era for American workers.”
UFCW President Joe Hansen proclaimed, “We have an historic opportunity and obligation to organize and lead a new movement for the 21st Century.”
Fast forward five years later and UNITE-HERE, or what’s left of it, has rejoined the AFL-CIO. Meanwhile, the Carpenters Union has also announced that it will leave Change to Win and the Laborers Union is reportedly considering a renewed partnership with the AFL-CIO.
“Change to Win issues a lot of press releases and takes a lot of cheap shots at different organizations and businesses, but as an organizing outfit for all practical purposes it is defunct. Organizing was their original purpose, but they simply don’t do any of that,” Spencer, the Chamber of Commerce spokesman said. “It’s really just a communications and marketing device for SEIU that has very little real substantive value.”
The UFCW is one of few remaining coalition members that has remained on an even keel although it certainly has not profited. It has experienced just a 0.6 percent increase in membership since 2005.
However, UFCW has donated a substantial sum to ACORN over that same period. This includes over $1 million to a New Orleans affiliate in 2008 and almost $430,000 in 2007 for representational activities.
“Change to Win was supposed to be a great organizational operation but these donations make it clear the coalition was outsourcing these activities to ACORN,” Mehrens, the ALG counsel noted. “I thought unions were against outsourcing.”