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Unions face obstacles in negotiations to reunite

By Steven Greenhouse

New York Times News Service

MIAMI BEACH — The push to reunify the nation’s fractured labor movement has run into serious obstacles, labor leaders said, with several saying the effort has only a 50-50 chance of success.

The presidents of 12 large unions have held talks since January, when they announced an effort to reunify organized labor, which split in 2005 when seven unions quit the AFL-CIO.

According to several officials at last week’s AFL-CIO winter meeting here, union presidents have debated what the focus of a new federation should be, how much each union would pay in dues and what the leadership structure would be — whether there would be a strong, long-term president or a two-year rotating presidency.

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"It’s too soon to say whether we’re going to succeed or not," said John J. Sweeney, the AFL-CIO president,. "A lot of what we’re discussing is similar to what was said before the split, and some of the same issues are being raised. But no real agreement has been arrived at on any of the issues."

David E. Bonior, a former House Democratic whip, is coordinating the talks, with April 15 as the goal for

an agreement.

"We have an incredible opportunity now with Barack Obama and his leadership to create a better economy and recreate the American dream," said Anna Burger, the chairwoman of Change to Win, the federation of breakaway unions, which include the service employees, Teamsters and carpenters.

Negotiators said there was agreement that a unified federation should focus on politics, public policy and legislative work. Many also agree that the federation should have an arm, which unions could join voluntarily, that helps unions to organize more workers.

Officials from several breakaway unions said they would not want to join the AFL-CIO, but rather a new, more dynamic federation that replaces it. But some AFL-CIO leaders, angry about the schism, are in no mood to create a new federation or make other changes sought by Stern or other Change to Win leaders.

Union leaders said the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union with 3.2 million members, was likely to join a unified federation. Dennis Van Roekel, the NEA’s president, is involved in the talks, but it could take a year for his union’s 50 state chapters to ratify the move.

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