A convention speech by retiring AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland was cut off Friday by chanting protests from, of all people, union activists.
The two-day meeting of two newly merged clothing workers unions was adjourned during Kirkland's address and about 10 minutes into the raucous demonstration by the union's field staff, which is negotiating a contract.
Asked his reaction to his shortened appearance at the UNITE convention, Kirkland curtly said, "I didn't lose my platform," and refused further comment.
Kirkland is leaving the AFL-CIO leadership in August after 26 years, and his departure has sparked the first contested election in 40 years at a time when the relevance of organized labor in the nation's political debate has been questioned.
"Over the last several months, there has been debate over the leadership," policies and programs of the AFL-CIO, Kirkland acknowledged in his speech to the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. "There is nothing inherently wrong about that."
Staff members of the Ladies' Garment Workers and the Clothing Workers unions chanted their way to the stage and soon reached the volume of Kirkland's amplified speech.
UNITE president Jay Mazur, who had quelled one demonstration by the group before Kirkland's arrival, was unable to quiet the crowd with calls for unity and repeated his commitment to negotiate.
"You have no right to disrupt this convention," he yelled into the microphone. "The convention is adjourned. Thank you all."