Split could create work-site trouble

An angry rift between union leaders filled the spotlight when big labor gathered this week in Chicago. But to figure out what labor's divide might actually mean for workers and employers, look beyond the dueling press conferences and listen to the union talk at Grandma's House, a child-care center Angenita Tanner runs from her basement apartment on the city's South Side. Tanner is one of Illinois' 49,000 home child-care workers, many self-employed, who voted overwhelmingly this spring to be represented by the Service Employees International Union. The vote capped a nine-year campaign by the SEIU, and a bitter fight with a rival union for the low-paid service workers. The workers, nearly all women and most minorities, once would have been far outside the muscle and manufacturing mainstream of organized labor. "There's power in numbers," said Tanner, trying to keep her voice in check as the seven children in her charge nap. "You cannot go to (the state Capitol in) Springfield by yourself and talk to senators and representatives and get heard ... but if you go as part of a group, being represented as part of the masses, they're going to listen." The unions' drive to sign up the child-care providers and another recent campaign in Illinois for home-health aides turned on winning higher pay and health insurance. But they also reflect the split in organized labor, one experts say could fuel increased competition by unions for workers, particularly in service industries that are becoming the economy's mainstay.