The battle lines have been drawn. On May 9, public employees leader Gerald McEntee announced that an 11-union coalition would select candidates to oppose AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland when his term expires in October.
For months, McEntee and other opponents have urged Kirkland, 73, to yield to a more aggressive leader. Their top choice: Secretary-Treasurer Thomas Donahue. But Kirkland refused to leave, prompting Donahue on May 5 to retire rather than be caught between his old friend and the reformers. "If Tom had run with Lane, it would have been more difficult for us," says McEntee. "But now Lane stands alone."
The dissidents, who represent almost 50% of the federation's 13.3 million members, likely will push Kirkland from the office he has held since 1979. Among those mentioned to head their slate are machinists leader George Kourpias, mine workers chief Richard Trumka, and service employees head John Sweeney. Says Kourpias: "It would be sad to see Lane end his career in a defeat, but that's a decision he has to make."