Full name American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
Founded December 4, 1955
Members 11,525,023 (2012)[1]
Country United States
Affiliation ITUC
Key people Richard Trumka, president[2]
Office location Washington, D.C.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of fifty-seven national and international unions,[3] together representing more than 11 million workers (as of June 2008, the most recent official statistic).[4] It was formed in 1955 when the AFL and the CIO merged after a long estrangement. From 1955 until 2005, the AFL–CIO's member unions represented nearly all unionized workers in the United States. Several large unions split away from AFL–CIO and formed the rival Change to Win Federation in 2005 but several unions have since reaffiliated. The largest union currently in the AFL–CIO is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with more than 1.6 million members.


The AFL–CIO is a federation of international labor unions. As a voluntary federation, the AFL–CIO has little authority over the affairs of its member unions except in extremely limited cases (such as the ability to expel a member union for corruption (Art. X, Sec. 17) and enforce resolution of disagreements over jurisdiction or organizing). As of October 2013, the AFL–CIO had 57 member unions.

Membership in the AFL–CIO is largely unrestricted. Since its inception as the American Federation of Labor, the AFL–CIO has supported an image of the federation as the "House of Labor"—an all-inclusive, national federation of "all" labor unions. Currently, the AFL–CIO's only explicit restriction on membership excludes those labor unions whose "policies and activities are consistently directed toward the achievement of the program or purposes of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedom of association..." (Art. II, Sec. 7). Under Art. II, Sec. 4 and Sec. 8, the AFL–CIO has the authority to place conditions on the issuance of charters, and formally has endorsed the policy of merging small unions into larger ones. In 2001, the AFL–CIO formally established rules regarding the size, financial stability, governance structure, jurisdiction, and leadership stability of unions seeking affiliation. And although the AFL–CIO constitution permits the federation to charter Directly Affiliated Local Unions, the AFL–CIO has largely refused to charter such unions since the 1970s.

A list of current member unions may be found at List of unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

In recent years the AFL–CIO has concentrated its political efforts on lobbying in Washington and the state capitals, and on "GOTV" (get-out-the-vote) campaigns and in major elections. For example, in the 2010 midterm elections, it sent 28.6 million pieces of mail. Members will receive a "slate card" with a list of union endorsements matched to the member's Congressional district, along with a "personalized" letter from President Trumka emphasizing the importance of voting. In addition, 100,000 volunteers will be going door to door to promote endorsed candidates to 13 million union voters in 32 states .[5]


The AFL–CIO is governed by its members, who meet in a quadrennial convention. Each member union elects delegates, based on proportional representation. The AFL–CIO's state federations, central and local labor councils, constitutional departments, and constituent groups are also entitled to delegates. The delegates elect officers and vice presidents, debate and approve policy, and set dues.

Executive council

The AFL–CIO has three executive officers: president, secretary-treasurer and executive vice president. The executive vice president is the most recently established office; it was created by constitutional amendment in 1995. Each officer's term is four years, and elections occur at the quadrennial convention.

Current officers are:

  • President: Richard Trumka (2009- )
  • Secretary-Treasurer: Liz Shuler (2009- )
  • Executive Vice-President: Tefere Gebre (2013- )

The AFL–CIO membership also elects 43 vice presidents at each convention, who have a term of four years. Election is by plurality, with the top 43 candidates with the highest votes winning office. Article VI, Sec. 5, of the AFL–CIO constitution permits the president of the federation to appoint up to three additional vice presidents during the period when the convention is not in session, in order to increase the racial, gender, ethnic and sexual diversity of the executive council.

The three officers and the vice presidents form the executive council, which is the federation's governing body between quadrennial conventions. It is required to meet twice a year, and in practice meets four or five times a year. It passes resolutions, directly oversees AFL–CIO's legislative program, and has other duties. In 2005, the AFL–CIO constitution was changed to permit the executive council to form "Industrial Coordinating Committees" based on geography, employer, occupation or other appropriate subdivisions to coordinate the organizing and collective bargaining work of the member unions.

Annual meetings

From 1951 to 1996, the Executive Council held its winter meeting in the resort town of Bal Harbour, Florida.[6] The meeting at the Bal Harbour Sheraton has been the object of frequent criticism, including over a labor dispute at the hotel itself.[7][8][9]

Citing image concerns, the council changed the meeting site to Los Angeles.[10][11] However, the meeting was moved back to Bal Harbour several years later.[12] The 2012 meeting was held in Orlando, Florida.[13]

Executive committee

An executive committee was authorized by constitutional change in 2005. The executive committee is composed of the president, vice presidents from the 10 largest affiliates, and nine other vice presidents chosen in consultation with the executive council. The other two officers are non-voting ex officio members. The executive committee governs the AFL–CIO between meetings of the executive council, approves its budget, and issues charters (two duties formerly discharged by the executive council). It is required to meet at least four times a year, and in practice meets on an as-needed basis (which may mean once a month or more).

General Board

The AFL–CIO also has a General Board. Its members are the AFL–CIO executive council, the chief executive officer of each member union, the president of each AFL–CIO constitutional department, and four regional representatives elected by the AFL–CIO's state federations. The General Board's duties are very limited. It only takes up matters referred to it by the executive council, but referrals are rare. However, because of the sensitive nature of political endorsements and the advisability of consensus when making them, the General Board traditionally is the body that provides the AFL–CIO's endorsement of candidates for president and vice president of the United States.

State and local bodies

Article XIV of the AFL–CIO constitution permits the AFL–CIO to charter and organize state, regional, local and city-wide bodies. They are commonly called "state federations" and "central labor councils" (CLCs), although the names of the various bodies varies widely at the local and regional level. Each body has its own charter, which establishes its jurisdiction, governance structure, mission, and more. Jurisdiction tends to be geo-political: Each state or territory has its own "state federation." In large cities, there is usually a CLC covering the city. Outside large cities, CLCs tend to be regional (to achieve an economy of scale in terms of dues, administrative effectiveness, etc.). State federations and CLCs are each entitled to representation and voting rights at the quadrennial convention.

The duties of state federations differ from those of CLCs. State federations tend to focus on state legislative lobbying, statewide economic policy, state elections, and other issues of a more overarching nature. CLCs tend to focus on county or city lobbying, city or county elections, county or city zoning and other economic issues, and more local needs.

Both state federations and CLCs work to mobilize members around organizing campaigns, collective bargaining campaigns, electoral politics, lobbying (most often rallies and demonstrations), strikes, picketing, boycotts, and similar needs.

Although the AFL–CIO constitution requires that all state and local unions affiliate with the appropriate state and local AFL–CIO body, in practice this is not enforced. Many unions do not affiliate with their state federation or CLC, or affiliate only a portion of their membership, leaving state feds and CLCs chronically short of funds.

Interestingly, the AFL–CIO constitution permits international unions to pay state fed and CLC dues directly, rather than have each local or state fed pay them. This relieves each union's state and local affiliates of the administrative duty of assessing, collecting and paying the dues. International unions assess the AFL–CIO dues themselves, and collect them on top of their own dues-generating mechanisms or simply pay them out of the dues the international collects. But not all international unions pay their required state fed and CLC dues.[14]

State federations and CLCs are historically important to the AFL and its successor, the AFL–CIO. George Meany, for example, had little experience as a union member or local union leader, but rose quickly to the top of the AFL–CIO due to his effectiveness as president of the New York State AFL. During the AFL's early history, when the federation remained as apolitical as possible, state feds were the legislative dynamos—lobbying for workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, child labor laws and the minimum wage. But in the 1970s and 1980s, state feds and CLCs became organizational backwaters. They were revitalized beginning in 1995, when John Sweeney campaigned heavily for their votes in his successful quest to unseat AFL–CIO interim president Thomas R. Donahue. Sweeney continued to emphasize them throughout his presidency.

Constitutional departments

Throughout its history, the AFL–CIO had a number of constitutionally mandated departments. They are governed by Article XII of the constitution. Initially, the rationale for having them was that affiliates felt that such decisions should not be left to the whims (or political needs) of the president of the federation.

Currently, Art. XII establishes seven departments, but allows the executive council or convention of the AFL–CIO to establish others. Each department is largely autonomous, but its must conform to the AFL–CIO's constitution and policies. Each department has its own constitution, membership, officers, governance structure, dues and organizational structure. Departments may establish state and local bodies. Any member union of the AFL–CIO may join a department, provided it formally affiliates and pays dues. The chief executive officer of each department may sit in on the meetings of the AFL–CIO executive council. Departments have representation and voting rights at the AFl-CIO convention.

One of the most famous departments was the Industrial Union Department (IUD). It had been constitutionally mandated by the new AFL–CIO constitution created by the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955, as CIO unions felt that the AFL's commitment to industrial unionism was not strong enough to permit the department to survive without a constitutional mandate. For many years, the IUD was a de facto organizing department in the AFL–CIO. For example, it provided money to the near-destitute American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as it attempted to organize the United Federation of Teachers in 1961. The organizing money enabled the AFT to win the election and establish its first large collective bargaining affiliate. For many years, the IUD remained rather militant on a number of issues. It proved to be a center of opposition to AFL–CIO president John Sweeney, and was abolished in 1999.

As of January 2007, there are six AFL–CIO constitutionally mandated departments:

Constituency groups

"Constituency groups" are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations chartered and funded by the AFL–CIO to enhance the representational effectiveness of various underrepresented groups. Usually they serve as a means to enhance the organizing of new members and as voter registration and mobilization bodies. The four more mature constituency groups are A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Alliance for Retired Americans, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Coalition of Labor Union Women. They conduct research, host training and educational conferences, issue research reports and publications, lobby for legislation and build coalitions with local groups.

Although constituency groups are not explicitly mentioned in the AFL–CIO constitution, the AFL–CIO exercises its general authority under Article XII to establish them in much the same way that it establishes other departments. Each constituency group has its own charter, officers, governance structure, etc., as constitutionally mandated departments do. They also have the right to sit in on AFL–CIO executive council meetings, and have representational and voting rights at AFL–CIO conventions. Many constituency groups are not self-sustaining and receive significant funding from the AFL–CIO.

As of January 2007, there are seven constituency groups within the AFL–CIO:

Allied organizations

"Allied organizations" are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations chartered and funded by the AFL–CIO to serve certain policy goals of the federation.

Although allied organizations are not explicitly mentioned in the AFL–CIO constitution, the AFL–CIO exercises its general authority under Article XII to establish them in much the same way that it establishes other departments. Each allied organization has its own charter, officers, governance structure, etc., as constitutionally mandated departments do. However, they do not have the right to sit in on AFL–CIO executive council meetings, and do not have representational or voting rights at AFL–CIO conventions. The current three allied organization are all self-sustaining. Their boards share members with the AFL–CIO executive council.

As of January 2007, there are three allied organizations:

They have evolved in a number of ways. For example, The Working for America Institute started out as a department of the AFL–CIO. Established in 1958, it was previously known as the Human Resources Development Institute (HRDI). President Sweeney renamed the department and spun it off as an independent organization in 1998 to act as a lobbying group to promote economic development, develop new economic polices, and lobby Congress on economic policy.[15] The American Center for International Labor Solidarity started out as the Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC), which internationally promoted free labor-unions.[16]

Allied groups

"Allied groups" are organizations that have more informal relationships to the AFL–CIO. Some, like the Labor and Working-Class History Association, are truly independent organizations that wish to work very closely with the AFL–CIO and promote its mission and goals. Others, like American Rights at Work, are independent in name only; they are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations with their own articles of incorporation, charter, governance structure, etc., but are funded largely by the AFL–CIO, and their boards are dominated by its directors. Others are plainly programs of the AFL–CIO operated as federation-wide, cross-cutting organizations serving AFL–CIO goals (such as disaster relief or member mobilization apart from legislative or organizing work). These programs have little or no staff (often using staff already employed by the AFL–CIO), and little or no need for funding (or using funds provided on an as-needed basis through existing AFL–CIO budgets).

As of January 2007, there are four allied groups:


AFL–CIO runs a SuperPac of which $5.95 million was donated from AFL–CIO in 2012.[17]


"Programs" are organizations established and controlled by the AFL–CIO to serve certain organizational goals. Because of legal requirements (such as federal and state securities laws), they are truly independent organizations. But their governance structures are either dominated by or have sizable blocks of AFL–CIO directors, which effectively direct them to implement policies favored by the AFL–CIO.

Programs serve a variety of goals. For example, the AFL–CIO Building Trust enables union pension and health funds to invest in the for-profit Building Investment Trust. The Trust then uses this capital to construct office buildings, hotels, housing developments, and other capital construction. Some profits are kept by the Trust to build its investment capabilities, the rest are distributed to the investors. Other programs serve goals such as the banking needs of individual union members (AFL–CIO Credit Union) or to provide credit card and other consumer services (Union Privilege).

As of January 2007, there were five programs of the AFL–CIO:

  • AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust
  • AFL-CIO Employees Federal Credit Union
  • AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust
  • National Labor College
  • Union Privilege

International policy

The AFL–CIO is affiliated to the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation, formed November 1, 2006, and incorporating the member organizations of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, of which the AFL–CIO had long been part. The ITUC is the most representative international labor grouping.


For the history of the AFL-CIO prior to and including the merger see American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and Labor unions in the United States.

Civil rights

The AFL–CIO has a long relationship with civil rights struggles. One of the major points of contention between the AFL and the CIO, particularly in the era immediately after the CIO split off, was the CIO's willingness to include black workers (excluded by the AFL in its focus on craft unionism.)[18][19] Later, blacks would also criticize the CIO for abandoning their interests, particularly after the merger with the AFL.[20]

In 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech titled "If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins" to the organization's convention in Bal Harbour, Florida. King hoped for a coalition between civil rights and labor that would improve the situation for the entire working class by ending white supremacy. However, King also criticized the AFL–CIO for its tolerance of unions that excluded black workers.[21] King and the AFL–CIO diverged further in 1967, when King expressed public opposition to the Vietnam War and connected it to the struggle of the working class in America.[21]

New Unity Partnership

In 2003, the AFL–CIO began an intense internal debate over the future of the labor movement in the United States with the creation of the New Unity Partnership (NUP), a loose coalition of some of the AFL–CIO's largest unions. This debate intensified in 2004, after the defeat of labor-backed candidate John Kerry in the November 2004 U.S. presidential election. The NUP's program for reform of the federation included reduction of the central bureaucracy, more money spent on organizing new members rather than on electoral politics, and a restructuring of unions and locals, eliminating some smaller locals and focusing more along the lines of industrial unionism.

In 2005, the NUP dissolved and the

Two unions later left CtW and rejoined the AFL–CIO. After a bitter internal leadership dispute that involved allegations of embezzlement and accusations that SEIU was attempting to raid the union,[27] a substantial number of UNITE HERE members formed their own union (Workers United) while the remainder of UNITE HERE reaffiliated with the AFL–CIO on September 17, 2009.[28] The Laborers' International Union of North America said on August 13, 2010, that it would also leave Change to Win and rejoin the AFL–CIO in October 2010.[29]

ILWU disaffiliation

In August 2013, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO. The ILWU said that members of other AFL-CIO unions were crossing its picket lines, and the AFL-CIO had done nothing to stop it. The ILWU also cited the AFL-CIO's willingness to compromise on key policies such as labor law reform, immigration reform, and health care reform. The longshoremen's union said it would become an independent union.[30]


See also

Organized labour portal



  • Amber, Michelle. "SEIU Agrees to Pay Nearly $4 Million to Settle Dispute With AFL-CIO Over Dues." Daily Labor Report. March 2, 2006.
  • Constitution of the AFL-CIO, as amended at the Twenty-Fifth Constitutional Convention, July 25-28, 2005. Accessed January 15, 2007.
  • Gilroy, Tom. "Labor to Stress Get-Out-the-Vote Among Members in Fall Elections." Labor Relations Week. October 21, 1998.
  • Greenhouse, Steven. "For Chairwoman of Breakaway Labor Coalition, Deep Roots in the Movement." New York Times. October 10, 2005.

Further reading


  • Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
  • Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collectiosn.
  • Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
  • Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
  • University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections. Contains material collected by Bohan as a Service Employees International Union delegate to the AFL-CIO convention that elected John Sweeney president in 1995.
  • University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections. Contains records from AFL-CIO National Community Services Documents, AFL-CIO Resources, and AFL-CIO Working Women Working Together Conference Records.
  • University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections. Contains "Principles of Autonomy & Jurisdictional Intergrity within the AFL-CIO".

External links

  • AFL-CIO official website
  • One Hat for Labor? by David Moberg, The Nation, April 29, 2009.
  • Labor's Cold War by Tim Shorrock. The Nation, May 19, 2003.
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