"A rift between environmentalists and labor, two pillars of the Democratic coalition, broke open acrimoniously on Monday, when a group of big unions threatened to boycott an ambitious get-out-the-vote operation planned for the November election unless a wealthy opponent of climate change was barred from it.
Warning that organized labor risked being “infiltrated by financial and political interests that work in direct conflict” with their members, the presidents of seven building-trade unions demanded that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. cut its ties with Thomas F. Steyer, a hedge fund manager who has spent millions promoting efforts to combat climate change.
In a blistering letter to Richard L. Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., they demanded that the federation back off plans to create a joint “super PAC” with Mr. Steyer, founder of the political advocacy group NextGen Climate.
Seeking to increase their political clout, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and a group of unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the two main teachers’ unions, said last week that they would join forces with Mr. Steyer to finance efforts to help Democratic candidates this fall through a new group called For Our Future PAC. The goal was for liberal groups to avoid duplicating efforts, as has happened in some elections.
Some unions were asked to give as much as $1 million. Mr. Steyer said that he would give $5 million and that it was “highly likely” other unions would join the effort, with an initial goal of raising $50 million.
However, the construction-sector unions assailed the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s willingness to make common cause with Mr. Steyer — who has opposed projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and coal-fired power plants — as an abandonment of workers and the federation’s principles.
“It saddens us that the very labor movement we have fought for and supported for over a century seems to have lost sight of its core mission and has moved away from us and our membership in the interest of headline-grabbing political expediency,” wrote the union presidents. The letter was signed by leaders of the operating engineers, plumbers, elevator constructors, roofers, laborers, plasterers and heat and frost insulators. Many of them have members who would stand to gain if the sort of energy projects Mr. Steyer has opposed went forward.
In a separate and even more harshly worded letter to Mr. Trumka, the president of the 500,000-member laborers union, Terry O’Sullivan, called the partnership a “politically bankrupt betrayal” of union members.“We object to the political agenda of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. being sold to a job-killing hedge fund manager with a bag of cash,” he wrote.
The letters were provided to The New York Times by a labor official who insisted on anonymity.
The schism comes as Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is running a populist campaign that could appeal to some union members, castigating free trade agreements and illegal immigrants while vowing not to cut entitlement spending.
Climate change advocates have enjoyed rising influence on the left in recent years.
But hard-hat unions, already on edge after President Obama and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, sided with the environmentalists on Keystone, are furious to see other labor leaders linking arms with someone they hold responsible for blocking job-creating projects.
The tensions come as membership in most private-sector unions has steadily declined, leaving organized labor under pressure to find new ways to demonstrate its influence.
Mr. O’Sullivan, in his letter, zeroed in on this challenge.
“Years of financial distress have left the A.F.L.-C.I.O. desperate for cash, and it appears that the answer is to sell out to a billionaire who not only has little or no stake in our movement, our members or their work but who has actively fought against our members’ interest,” he wrote."
"This Super PAC creates a significant conflict between the interests of hard-working union members and the interests of those running the Super PAC," he (O'Sullivan) wrote....In their joint letter, the building trade union leaders said they would not contribute to the super PAC."...
5/16/16, "Building trade unions denounce labor partnership with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer," Washington Post, Metea Gold
In letters delivered Monday to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the presidents of eight building trade organizations called on the AFL-CIO to cut ties with Steyer, whose opposition to an extension of the Keystone XL Pipeline infuriated unions that had championed the jobs that the oil pipeline would have created.
"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 building trade presidents wrote in a letter obtained by the Washington Post.
"The AFL-CIO has now 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 letter continued. "This is a disturbing development and one that requires a further explanation."
The missive was signed by the heads of the North America’s Building Trades Unions; the Laborers’ International Union of North America; the International Union of Operating Engineers; the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers; the United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and Service Technicians; the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association; the International Union of Elevator Constructors and the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers.
A spokesman for the AFL-CIO declined to comment.
At issue is a new super PAC called For Our Future that Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, is financing in conjunction with the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. As part of the partnership, Steyer has agreed to match the donations that the unions put into the group, helping amplify labor's resources. The organization plans to mobilize voters in key Senate races and presidential battleground states, and will be run by veteran Democratic strategist Paul Tewes, Politico reported. Tewes, who was a top political director for President Obama's 2008 campaign, has done work for All Risk, No Reward, an alliance of anti-Keystone groups.
Representatives of For Our Future did not have any immediate comment.
In their joint letter, the building trade union leaders said they would not contribute to the super PAC, and they called on the AFL-CIO to rethink the partnership.
Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers' union, went even further in a separate letter to Trumka, accusing the labor federation of selling its political agenda to "a job-killing hedge fund manager with a bag of cash."
"This Super PAC creates a significant conflict between the interests of hard-working union members and the interests of those running the Super PAC," he wrote.
"With your blessing and support, Tom Steyer has purchased the backing, prestige, and control of the AFL-CIO, and will now use it to advance his own agenda, promote his own views, and further his own political ambitions," he wrote. "This scheme if the logical outcome of an obsession with, and a desire to throw open the doors of labor to, outside organizations that are completely out of touch with the needs and concerns of ordinary, blue-collar working Americans.""