Energy & Environment

AFL-CIO rift opens over green mega-donor Tom Steyer

Seven unions in the AFO-CIO are demanding that the labor confederation cut ties with Tom Steyer, the environmental activist and megadonor funding a new super-PAC with the organized labor group.

In a letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the officials protested Steyer’s opposition to the Keystone oil pipeline, and said they want none of their dues funneled toward the For Our Future PAC, a group backed by the AFL-CIO and Steyer that plans to raise $50 million to elect a Democratic president.

{mosads}The letter, signed by Sean McGarvey, the president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, and the representatives of seven unions within the confederation, decried the AFL-CIO’s pattern of working with outside groups that sometimes oppose projects that would create jobs.

They accused the AFL-CIO of having “officially become infiltrated by financial and political interests that work in direct conflict to many of our members’ — and yes, AFL-CIO dues paying members’ lives.”

The officials said this has had the effect of hurting the building trades workers in particular.

“Unfortunately, a growing trend within the Federation seems to consistently minimize the importance of Building Trades jobs and our members’ livelihoods in the pursuit of a coalition strategy with outside organizations that has produced mixed results at best and disastrous results at worst for our members and their employment prospects in many instances throughout the country,” the union officials wrote.

“The latest disturbing example of this dubious big tent strategy that has, in many instances, been detrimental to the economic well being of our members, is the reported formation of the aforementioned Super PAC that will be dominated by funds from billionaire activists Tom Steyer,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by McGarvey; Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents about 500,000 workers; James Callahan, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents 400,000 workers; and William Hite, president of the United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and Service Technicians, which has about 300,000 members.

Other signatories on the letter include Frank Christensen of the International Union of Elevator Constructors; Kinsey Robinson of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers; James “Bud” McCourt of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers; and Daniel Stepano, of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association.

Altogether the unions represent 1.5 million workers, a sizable chunk of the AFL-CIO.

Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, declined to comment. 

Steyer spent more than $70 million in the 2014 midterm elections, according to an analysis by Politico earlier this year. His top issue was fighting climate change and quashing the Keystone pipeline, which would have transported oil from Canada’s tar sands pits to the Texas Gulf Coast for international export.

The union officials wrote they are not climate science deniers and only want to ensure the economic livelihoods of their workers are not impacted negatively.

They also wanted to shine a light on what they view as the AFL-CIO’s drift away from the core interests of some of its members.

“Compromising our core mission as trade unionists sworn to advocate for the economic well being of our membership as a trade off for a perceived short term political gain is utterly disappointing and cannot be supported by the undersigned organizations,” they added. 

Tags AFL-CIO Keystone XL Richard Trumka Tom Steyer

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