WASHINGTON -- The United Food and Commercial Workers Union will devote more resources toward political activity at the local level now that it is part of the new Change to Win coalition, a UFCW spokeswoman told SN last week.
"One of the biggest changes is that it is going to change the way we do our political work," said Jill Cashen, the UFCW spokeswoman. "I think the emphasis of Change to Win is going to be a lot more on local elections, getting people in the halls of power who have a real understanding of local issues and the needs of workers and their families. I'm not sure we're going to be putting as much money on the federal level, but we're going to look for new and more effective ways of mobilizing our members on Election Day."
The AFL-CIO's extensive political lobbying activities at the federal level were cited as one of the reasons the UFCW and other unions left that group to form Change to Win. The breakaway unions said they wanted to dedicate more resources toward organizing efforts in their core industries.
Cashen said the amount that the UFCW will contribute to Change to Win will be "considerably less" than the $8 million it previously paid in annual dues to the AFL-CIO, leaving more money for the UFCW to spend on recruiting and local political activity. The first-year budget of Change to Win will be $16 million, she said.
In his speech at the inaugural Change to Win convention last month, Joe Hansen, president, UFCW, said the 20-week strike-lockout in Southern California that ended early last year revealed the need for changes in the way the union functions.
"Our employers had too much clout, too much financial power -- and we weren't effectively utilizing the levels of power at our disposal," he said.
Following the labor dispute, the UFCW reorganized internally to better coordinate local negotiating efforts. Those changes are now being reflected in the way the union is handling its negotiations between multiple UFCW locals and Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., Cashen told SN.
The new coalition also is seen as helping unions in their efforts to coordinate organizing efforts at Wal-Mart Stores. UFCW and the Service Employees International Union, both of which have separate Wal-Mart initiatives, have also begun working together in their battle to promote unionization of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer.
Change to Win is creating a "strategic organizing center" that will help coordinate large organizing campaigns among multiple coalition members. The new group said it plans to dedicate at least 75% of its resources to organizing through the strategic organizing center.
In addition to UFCW and SEIU, Change to Win also includes the Teamsters, the Laborers International Union, Unite Here, the United Farm Workers of America, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.