AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney, the embattled head of American labor, is scheduled to visit Buffalo on Monday and give a talk about globalization at Canisius College.
The trip, at the invitation of retired congressman John J. LaFalce, brings Sweeney to the union-heavy region three months before he faces re-election. His talk will connect Catholic teaching about fairness to the issue of workers' rights in a global economy.
"I grew up in a house where the three important things were faith, family and my father's union," he said in a telephone interview.
The son of a New York City bus driver, Sweeney, 70, was elected head of the 13 million member AFL-CIO in 1995, after heading the Service Employees International Union.
This will be his first visit to Buffalo as AFL-CIO president, he said, although he traveled here often as chief of the New York City-based service workers.
Not one of labor's firebrand orators, Sweeney's scholarly sounding topic is a match for his thoughtful speaking style.
Globalism has battered manufacturing areas like Buffalo, he said, hollowing U.S. living standards while failing to lift the oppression of workers overseas.
"It's an important time to be going to Western New York," he said.
The AFL-CIO is reorganizing at the regional level and Buffalo is one of the first areas in the country to adopt the new structure. The Western New York Area Labor Federation was launched in 2001, creating a region-wide organization above city-based councils. The visit comes during a feud that splits labor at the national level. Sweeney faces a potential battle for re-election this summer when delegates to the AFL-CIO convention meet in Chicago. Several large unions have threated to break away from the AFL-CIO over its organizing strategy, and could challenge his incumbency.
"He's got his own battles he's going through right now," said Mark Jones, president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO Labor Council, an affiliate of the national organization with about 60,000 members. In Erie and Niagara counties, about 126,000 workers belong to unions, 25 percent of the work force.
Andy Stern, Sweeney's successor at the service workers' union, and Teamsters leader James P. Hoffa are pushing for the AFL-CIO to give back 50 percent of member unions' dues, in order to fund a big new organizing push.
His speech at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Canisius's Montante Cultural Center is about "Catholic Social Teaching and the Rights of Working Men and Women in an Era of Globalization." The event is free and open to the public.