November 21,, 1996

Letter to the Editor

The Nation

Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10011

Dear Editor:

Robert Fitch's recent review of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney's book, America Needs a Raise, got a few things wrong about the Laborers' International Union of North America

(LIUNA) and its General President, Arthur A. Coia.

Your attacks on LIUNA's organizing efforts as lackluster are completely off base. Prior to Mr. Coia's presidency, the Laborers' had no organizing department. Since June 1, 1994 when General President Coia established LIUNA's organizing department, LIUNA has devoted 10% of our annual budget to organizing. We went from spending nothing on organizing to devoting 10% of our budget to organizing in just two years -- and we are still expanding our organizing efforts. LIUNA has two priorities in the coming years, and has and is restructuring to meet these priorities: successfully completing our internal reform effort (you got most of that wrong, too); and organizing new workers. Mr. Coia's commitment to organizing predates John Sweeney's ascension to the Presidency of the AFL-CIO. and is what prompted Mr. Sweeney to name him chair of the AFL-CIO's organinzing committee. Indeed, LIUNA has at times been characterized by other unions as too aggressive in its organizing efforts.

Additionally, you unfairly and inaccurately tar all labor unions - including LIUNA -- with the charge of racism and exclusion. In fact, LIUNA is one of the most diverse unions in the labor movement today. Our members include Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, Native Americans, and women. We know that our strength lies in diversity and, unlike many of our conservative critics who oppose affirmative action programs, we have taken, and are taking, action to increase our diversity. While Americans everwhere wondered what to do about the burning of Black Churches across the South, LIUNA knew precisely what to do: we mobilized our members to rebuild and protect churches, and to work in communities to prevent racism. Moreover, we are the only labor union with a Department of Minority Affairs, a new department established by General President Coia.

We in the labor movement would welcome a critical review of Mr. Sweeney's book that openly debates the real issues facing America's working men and women. But reviews like yours that engage in baseless mud slinging and unfair attacks do little to move the debate forward, or to help find solutions to the problems American families face.


Linda Fisher

Director, Public Affairs

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