Two of the nation’s largest unions, AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union, who represent thousands of the same types of workers – nurses, public service workers and more – will create “unity partnerships” for joint planning, bargaining, legislation, politics and organizing. And down the road, their plan adds, they may merge.

The detailed plan, revealed in a resolution AFSCME convention delegates approved in mid-July, builds on a three-way politics-only alliance between those two unions and the American Federation of Teachers in the 2012 national election campaign. And it may well make both unions, both political powerhouses, even more influential in that field.

And since AFSCME and SEIU, with almost 4 million members combined, overlap far more than either does with AFT, the new, more comprehensive alliance is more significant. SEIU’s board previously approved the alliance, but did not spell it out in detail. AFSCME does.

The resolution, entitled AFSCME and SEIU: Unstoppable unions that never quit, points out both must “come together and work collaboratively to unite workers and communities to challenge the rapidly growing inequity in wealth and power” that threatens society in general and workers and unions, private and public, in particular.

While the two recognize past differences in structure and style – AFSCME is the largest AFL-CIO union and SEIU is the largest in the Change To Win federation, for example – the resolution decides “the times demand we build on our common purpose.”

That means setting up a lot of joined structure, along with “innovating in collective bargaining, exploring creation of new forms of self-sustaining democratic worker organization” beyond that model, expanded joint organizing and determination to “lead and participate in the wider social-economic justice movement.”

To do that, the unions will create the unity partnerships at all levels for “joint goal setting and strategic planning, joint bargaining and representation” before common employers, “coordinated bargaining” where their members are in the same industry or labor market, joint priorities and strategies to deal with legislators and government agencies, joint political activities and joint “communication, legal, mobilization and research strategies.”

They also want other unions to join them. And “based on the durability and effectiveness of the partnerships…we will explore ways to deepen and expand our collaborative efforts, including consideration of an institutional merger that would formally unite the strengths of both.”

The two unions also decided to appoint a joint committee to “foster the collaboration” and work out the practical details of the unity partnerships. But it also says the boards of the two unions could “modify or end the collaboration” and that both unions must vote on any proposed structural changes.

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