AFL-CIO seeks to avoid internal labor dispute, reaches Guild deal

Looking to avoid an embarrassing labor dispute, the AFL-CIO reached a tentative agreement Thursday night with its largest professional staff union.

The “tough” six-month-long negotiation came close to boiling over, sources familiar with the process told The Hill. Members of the Newspaper Guild considered picketing the union’s downtown Washington headquarters before the tentative deal was reached.

Forming a picket line and distributing literature is a common practice during labor contract negotiations. But it would have proved embarrassing for the national labor group and a major distraction during a crucial election season.

“We wanted to avert a confrontation and it looks like it’s going to be OK,” said Cet Parks, executive director of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents about 130 workers in the AFL-CIO’s legislative, political, communications and field departments.

“It took a while. It was tough negotiations.”

Parks said there were several of points of contention between the workers and the AFL-CIO.

“It was some restructuring issues that we are dealing with,” Parks said. He declined to elaborate because the deal had only been reached between the Guild’s negotiating committee and the AFL-CIO.

“We have a tentative agreement. The members have to vote on it before it’s ratified and goes into effect,” he said.

The AFL-CIO’s professional staff are represented by other unions in order to ensure they have an equitable bargaining position with their employer.

Parks said he thinks the members will ratify the deal. “We have to see how this vote goes to see what happens next,” he added. “A lot of things could happen.”

The vote could take up to 14 days to complete if the members decide to proceed with mail-in ballots. “We’re trying to do [e-mail] voting where we can get something done next week,” Parks said.

The AFL-CIO confirmed a tentative agreement had been reached and said any talk of a picket line was just part of the back-and-forth negotiating process.

"As union members, we are committed to a fair bargaining process where everyone sits down at the table and engages in a real give-and-take in order to reach a contract,” Alison Omens, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, said in a statement to The Hill. “We're gratified we've come to an agreement and will continue to focus full-time on mobilizing for good jobs and people who will support them."

Contract negotiations have caused problems for other major unions during past political seasons. During the summer of 2008, two unions representing the professional staff of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) formed an informational picket line outside the union’s Washington headquarters. The contract negotiation ran into September but was eventually resolved.

Earlier this summer, the AFL-CIO reached a contract agreement with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents about 100 of its support staff.