The largest union in the AFL-CIO — representing state and local government workers — is beginning a multimillion-dollar effort to mobilize its members to vote, work for improved health care and organize more workers.

The effort will be paid for by increases in the dues paid by workers and the fees paid by local unions.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with 1.4 million members, voted this week in Chicago to increase the "per capita tax" it charges affiliate unions, union President Gerald McEntee said Thursday.

McEntee said the union will raise $60 million from 2007 to 2009 with the increased fees and $60 million per year after that.

"In 2004, progressives lost our third straight election, politicians who won were more viciously anti-union than ever," McEntee said in a conference call. "Big ideas like universal health care and a living wage seem like quaint reminders of the mid-1990s."

He said government workers "face budget cuts, service cuts and benefit cuts."

The increase in fees followed two years of study, he said. "Delegates were overwhelmingly for it. Nobody likes to pay more dues, but they were prepared to do it to successfully carry out this program."

AFSCME will spend $22 million in 2006 educating and mobilizing its members to vote, he said. It will also encourage a fourth of its members to contribute $100 or more to the union’s political action committee.

The labor movement has been hampered by declining membership for years, and organized labor splintered last year as about a half-dozen unions broke away from the AFL-CIO.

McEntee noted that the AFL-CIO, with about 9 million members, and the Change to Win alliance, with about 6 million members, are hammering out an agreement to work together politically.

"When it came to major elections," McEntee said, "I thought that we would always find a way to work together."


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