LaborTalk for February 10, 2012

AFL-CIO Members Are Becoming More Critical
Of Their Leaders, Who Keep on Ignoring Them

By Harry Kelber

AFL-CIO members are beginning to vent their frustration and anger at their own leaders. The changing mood is taking place, not only because of the AFL-CIOs dismal performance, but also because members get little, or no, information about what their national leaders are doing.

The Federation has nothing to brag about. Wages are stagnant or worse. Affiliated unions are making concessions on healthcare, pensions and other issues to avoid mass layoffs. There is no visible mass effort to increase union membership or bargaining strength.

But the biggest gripe of many union members is that they are not told what their leaders are doing and that they have no voice in determining union policies. They say that the AFL-CIO is no longer functioning like a labor union, but acting more like a private corporation, where decisions are made by a handful of executives.

Take the issue of AFL-CIOs finances. Union members who pay their required dues feel they ought to know, at least in summary form, how their money is being spent. Isnt that a legitimate request? Yet, since Richard Trumka became AFL-CIO president in September 2009, he and his secretary-treasurer, Liz Shuler, have not issued a single word about the AFL-CIOs finances nor have they bothered to say why not. They feel they dont want to or have to — and who is going to dare to challenge them?.

Trumka has received a stream of questions involving AFL-CIO policies, but he has dismissed all of them, without even the courtesy of a formal reply. Nor has the 51 members of the Executive Council said anything of consequence in the more than two years they have been in office.

In a democratic union, members have the right to know

Trumka and the Executive Council have no worries about being challenged by union members for flawed campaigns or membership losses, because they control the electoral machinery that automatically guarantees them re-election.

All we can do is pay our union dues and grumble. Anyone who speaks up for members rights runs the risk f being ostracized and ending up with a damaged career. AFL-CIO leaders can be very vindictive toward "dissidents."

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We should never forget that unions were formed by workers for their mutual protection and advancement and that union leaders are their employees, not independent contractors. Its short-sighted to believe that union leaders, no matter how talented, can run a 12-million AFL-CIO organization without the involvement of its members.

Trumkas perpetual silence toward the union rank-and file can be very destructive to the AFL-CIOs future. Does he get the message? Will he do something about it?

LaborTalk will be posted here on February 12, 2012 and on our two web sites and on

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