It appears the Change to Win Federation (CTW), labor’s ambitious effort to revive the American labor movement, may be on its death bed.  The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), one of the founding members of CTW, is about to follow UNITE-HERE, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC), and the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), by leaving CTW, either to return to the AFL-CIO or remain independent.   The UFCW’s exodus would leave only the SEIU, Teamsters Union and the United Farm Workers as members of CTW. The AFL-CIO is the largest labor federation in the world.

CTW was formed by former AFL-CIO members Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE HERE, UBC, LIUNA, the Teamsters Union and the UFCW in 2005 as a result of dissatisfaction by those unions with the AFL-CIO’s failure to organize new members.  The revolt was led by then-SEIU President Andy Stern.  Stern declared, “Our goal is not to divide the labor movement, but to rebuild it — so working people can once again achieve the American Dream.”  Many expected the advent of CTW to result in more frequent and better financed union organizing campaigns with increased union membership. CTW also would take a more aggressive approach – as exemplified by the success of the SEIU. Further, competition from CTW would cause the AFL-CIO to push its political agenda to the side and focus more of its resources on organizing, as well.

Eight years later, these predictions have proved to be unfounded.  CTW has failed miserably.  According to records on file with the United States Department of Labor, CTW membership has decreased from 5.3 million to 4.2 million since 2006.  Its yearly receipts have decreased from 18.7 million to 13.4 million dollars during the same period of time. 

UFCW’s 1.3 members (primarily in the retail and food sectors) will vote on its return to the AFL-CIO at the union’s convention in August.  The vote represents a dramatic about-face for UFCW President Joe Hansen, who in 2005 said of CTW, “We have an historic opportunity and obligation to organize and lead a new movement for the 21st century.”  According to reports, the AFL-CIO may offer the UFCW enticements such as a discount on dues and support for repealing portions of ObamaCare.

The return of the UFCW to the AFL-CIO and the failure of CTW to live up to its goals is a significant stain on Stern’s legacy.  It adds to the increasingly long list of union failures (EFCA, the rejection of former NLRB Member Craig Becker’s confirmation, union dissatisfaction with ObamaCare, the NLRB posting rule, etc.) and also may signal the point of no return for CTW.