Inside the AFL-CIO
Issued Every Tuesday
Column #21 August 14, 2001

‘House of Labor’ Welcomes 275,000,
But Organizing Falls Far Short of Target

By Harry Kelber

In the last two months, the AFL-CIO has gained 275,000 members as a result of chartering two large, long-established independent unions. That is nearly three times what its affiliated unions gained through organizing since Jan. 1, 2001.

The 100,000-member United American Nurses received its AFL-CIO charter on June 28. The UAN is the collective bargaining arm of the American Nurses Assn., the largest and oldest professional organization of registered nurses. On Aug. 3, the AFL-CIO issued a charter to the 175,000-member California School Employees Assn., another thriving organization that has existed for 75 years as an independent union.

Affiliation gives both unions the assurance that they won’t be raided by competitors. The CSEA will be shielded from possible raids by teacher and public employee unions, while the UAN, which represents registered nurses in 25 states, can expect cooperation from the Service Employees and other unions that organize hospital and nursing home employees. As the 65th and 66th national union affiliates, they can also look forward to greatly increased political influence at the state and national levels whenever they work on legislative and electoral campaigns.

Naturally, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is pleased. He told CSEA delegates that their decision to “join forces with the 13 million members of the AFL-CIO is indicative of the level at which the union movement is reaching out, growing and representing a broader range of professions. This new alliance will strengthen both organizations, and will mean a stronger future for school employees and for California students and their families.”

CSEA President Clyde Rivers commented: “Delegates recognized this presented the best opportunity for the continued success of our great union.” And Cheryl Johnson, president of the nurses’ union, said: “This new partnership with the AFL-CIO and its member unions can have a tremendous impact on health care in this country.”

The two unions will be paying a per capita tax of 53 cents per member per month, similar to what all international unions pay. They will be putting about $1.75 million a year into the federationıs coffers.

In the months prior to formalizing the new affiliations, AFL-CIO negotiators made some unprecedented concessions that may displease other affiliates. Giving the presidents of CSEA and UAN seats on the Executive Council may annoy some of the two dozen international union presidents who were passed over for slots on the 54-member policy-making body.

Also, awarding the California school employees the status of an autonomous national union may not sit well with state labor organizations that have no national voice.

Looming in the background is a far more serious question: how the practice of boosting membership rolls by recruiting independent unions will affect the current sluggish pace of the AFL-CIO’s organizing efforts.

A year ago, the Executive Council set a goal of organizing one million new members a year, later watered down to 700,000. But in eight months, unions have organized 99,375, according to the federationıs own figures. At this stage of the year, they should have organized at least 450,000.

With a handful of exceptions, unions have been cutting back on their organizing efforts. For the first four months of this year, petitions for NLRB elections dropped 25% compared with last year. And with unions winning only about half of all NLRB elections, there wonıt be any significant membership growth in 2001 unless all internationals follow through on an expanding list of organizing targets.

Instead of focusing on how affiliates can reach out to the unorganized, the Executive Council may be tempted to delude itself into thinking that the addition of the nurses and school employees compensates for a dismal organizing record. The weekly publication, Work in Progress, has set the stage for this deception by lumping together two different categories when it tallies “new members” on its front page.

The Council would be ill-advised to treat members of long-established, but newly-affiliated, independent unions as newly organized workers. It makes no sense to suggest that organizing goals can be met without actually recruiting unorganized workers.

Unions must step up their efforts to reach the Executive Council’s lowered target of 700,000 new members a year. Dropping the bar further to count members who have already been organized by independent unions would make a mockery of the AFL-CIO’s historic mission to organize the unorganized.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council has elected six new members. They are: Joe Hunt, president of the Iron Workers, replacing his predecessor, Jake West; Cheryl Johnson, president of the United American Nurses; Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE!, who replaces Jay Mazur; Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers; Clyde Rivers, president of the California School Employees Assn. and Ed Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Dept., replacing Robert Georgine.

Three Council members are departing: John T. Joyce, former president of the Bricklayers and Allied Crafts Workers; James Norton, former president of the Graphic Communications International Union, and Robert E. Wages, former executive vice-president of PACE.

“Inside the AFL-CIO” can be viewed every Tuesday at www.labor Our “LaborTalk“ column appears every Monday.

HomePublications Inside the AFL-CIOContact us