Union leaders representing workers in the apparel and textile industry on Saturday (7 March) voted to break away from the Unite Here union, which they say no longer serves their best interests.

But their actions have been described as a "charade" by John Wilhelm, president of Unite Here's hospitality division, who adds that "more than two-thirds of the members of Unite Here are not part of this divisive move."

The vote marks an escalation of hostilities at Unite Here, which was formed nearly five years ago from the merger between Unite, which represents the apparel industry, and Here, which represents hotel, restaurant and casino workers.

Problems in the union surfaced after its president Bruce Raynor described the merger in 2004 as "an abject failure" characterised by "failed organising projects, squandered resources and no accountability."

The goal of the splinter group is to leave before the union's convention in June and form a new union.

But Wilhelm maintains: "We will not allow for undemocratic attempts to takeover or split our Union."

In a vote last month, a majority of Unite Here's general executive board elected to keep the union group intact - adding further friction to the ongoing dispute.