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BLOOMINGTON - Members of six labor unions Tuesday ended their affiliation with the AFL-CIO by forming the National Construction Alliance.

David Penn, of Bloomington-based Laborers International Union Local 362, said buildings and trade members will officially sever the ties March 1. Leaders of the laborers, carpenters, operators, bricklayers, iron workers and teamsters made the decision while attending a Laborers Tri Fund meeting regarding benefit packages in Los Angeles.

"We were at the door. We had to decide whether to walk in the door or out of it. We've got a whole new house of labor," said Penn of Bloomington. "It will be unionism like it was a long time ago."

Tuesday's action grew out of a movement last October by teamsters, laborers, food and commercial workers, food workers, service employees and UNITE HERE to form a new labor federation called Change to Win Coalition. All groups except the laborers ended their AFL-CIO affiliation at that time.

Penn said the new labor group will mean increased market share for laborers, increased training and added membership. National Construction Alliance members decided to dump "antiquated" union guidelines used by the AFL-CIO and adopt a per capita weighted voting system.

Job limitations to change

Jurisdiction issues that dictate which jobs laborers can perform also will change. Penn said the move will allow contractors more freedom in which workers they use.

"We've been talking with the contractors association since last July. They need to make a profit. They don't need to worry about jurisdictional issues," said Penn. "We will continue to gain market share. We will recruit more people and put more people to work. If we meet contractors' needs of building faster and more efficiently, they will continue to bid and invest in our training."

Additional training will be available to laborers through partnerships among smaller groups of union members who have lacked financing in the past for training, Penn said. Members also may be cross-trained to serve on composite job crews, he added.

"Our political agendas remain the same (as AFL-CIO). We have a wonderful relationship with the local and state AFL-CIO. We want to continue that. We just believe we can do some things better. Within a short time, we will be as big as the AFL-CIO," said Penn, who expects to meet with Twin City laborers early next week. By April 1, the new unions will apply for federal, sanctioned charters.

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