Dissident Trade Union Holds First Convention

After the recent shakeup of labor unions, a group emerged: Change to Win. The group prides itself on having leadership as diverse as the people it represents; now, it's held a first convention.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Wednesdays, our business report focuses on the workplace. Today, a look at trade unions.

When a group of unions quit the AFL-CIO last summer, they vowed to organize more workers and stop labor's long decline. This week, the dissident group, known as Change to Win, held its first convention and tried to map out a strategy to deliver on that promise. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT reporting:

One of the first things you notice about Change to Win is the face of its leadership. The country's major unions are run by white men, but at its convention in St. Louis, the group designated an African-American as secretary-treasurer and a white woman, Anna Berger, as its chairwoman. Berger says the different complexion is part of a bid to reach the country's diverse labor force. She spoke by phone backstage at the convention.

Ms. ANNA BERGER (Chair, Change to Win): I think it's an incredible step forward that we demonstrate the commitment of our federation to real diversity. What we've said is we are organizing women and people of color and immigrants, not just as members but as full participants and full leaders at every level of our union.

LANGFITT: Change to Win is made up of seven unions, including some of the nation's biggest--the Service Employees International and the Teamsters. Altogether, Change to Win represents nearly six million workers. Some of the Change to Win unions broke away from the AFL-CIO in July, saying they wanted to devote more money to building membership. The split is the biggest organized labor has seen in decades.

More than 400 delegates attended Change to Win's convention. The group announced plans to open a strategy office and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to organize more workers. As delegates cheered a speaker, Berger said Change to Win would operate with a far smaller staff than the AFL-CIO.

Ms. BERGER: We really do think about how do we grow the voice of working people again so that they can share in the prosperity of our country.

LANGFITT: AFL-CIO officials say they doubt Change to Win will succeed. They say a split labor movement plays into the hands of anti-union businesses which are trying to squeeze workers' wages, health-care coverage and pensions.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

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