The Note: Special Relationships

A key ally of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has resigned from a top post in the organization, accusing Sweeney of misleading him about the progress of reform efforts, ABC News' Marc Ambinder reports. The sudden decision is the latest in a series of events affecting the leader of the AFL-CIO, which represents 13 million workers in 58 different member unions.

In a scathing and personal letter to Sweeney, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News, Harold Schaitberger, the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters and chairman of the AFL-CIO's public affairs committee, implied he had been kept out of the loop on a high-profile reform plan.

Schaitberger had been one of Sweeney's chief allies in his attempt to reform the 50-year-old labor organization.

Schaitberger said that in a private conversation just two days before, Sweeney shared ideas for reform and did not signal that a formal proposal would be made public anytime soon. Schaitberger said he then learned through the press that a detailed, 30-page document had been released, instead of being informed by Sweeney.

Schaitberger wrote that neither Sweeney nor AFL-CIO Communications Director Denise Mitchell, who was also involved in the conversation, "saw fit to so much as mention to me, as chair of the public affairs committee, that the very next day you would be conducting a major press event on what you have now put forward as your reform 'recommendations.'

"Rest-assured, this is not a snap judgment. The meetings we've had on this issue about my concerns relating to the committee's work and my role have been expressed over an extended period of time. I am sorry to say that, in this specific case, actions speak louder than words."

Sweeney responded through a spokesperson, "We are deeply sorry that President Schaitberger is resigning as chair of the public affairs committee. We value his leadership and insight, and believe that the union movement needs him to continue to lead in this and other areas."

The letter suggests that Schaitberger was frustrated with the pace of Sweeney's reform discussions, which has led critics to suggest that Sweeney is not committed to change.

Sweeney is up for re-election this year as AFL-CIO president, and five powerful unions, led by the Teamsters' James Hoffa and the SEIU's Andrew Stern, are searching for a credible challenger. John Wilhelm, a UniteHere executive, is said to be weighing a run.

If Schaitberger's discontent signals a larger breach with Sweeney, and a Schaitberger aide did not deny that it did, the dissident coalition may benefit when the election is held in July. Other Sweeney allies have privately expressed frustration with the pace of reforms, and some believe that Sweeney will ultimately take himself out of the race.

Schaitberger has often charted his own pragmatic course in the muddy waters of AFL-CIO politics.

Though Schaitberger was a key adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign and the union movement is traditionally associated with the Democratic Party, Schaitberger's five-year tenure as IAFF president has also included significant outreach to Republicans.

The union held a reception for House Speaker Dennis Hastert at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and gave 34 percent of its political action committee donations to Republican candidates in the 2004 elections. More recently, Schaitberger and Painters Union president James Williams hosted a reception for Republican members of Congress.

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