LaborTalk for February 13, 2008

If unions are so good (and they are!) for workers,
why aren't millions of them rushing to join? (7)

The AFL-CIO Has No Plan to Organize Workers
Until Congress Passes Employee Free Choice Act

By Harry Kelber

For the past two years, the AFL-CIO has publicized the various methods that employers use to intimidate their workers from joining a union. It has noted that in FY 2005, for example, as many as 31,358 workers were fired for pro-union activity.

To counter employer anti-union aggression, the AFL-CIO and its rival, Change to Win (CtW), have asked Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would impose fines on employers who violate their workers' right to join a union. Even more important, EFPC would make it easier to organize workers by having them sign authorization cards rather than going through a boss-influenced Labor Board election.

But what about the 50 million unorganized workers who say, according to studies, that they'd like to belong to a union? They are being told, in effect, that now is not the time to unionize them; employers are too strong. Unions will be in a stronger position to recruit them as soon as Congress passes Employee Free Choice?

When will that happen? Not in 2008. EFCA passed the House, but was short of several votes to get through the Senate, and President Bush has promised to veto it. The legislation might pass Congress if the Democrats regain the White House and win large majorities in the House and Senate. But don't underestimate the anti-union lobbyists and the opposition of right-wing organizations.

But what if Congress fails to act, what then? Neither the AFL-CIO nor the CtW has a specific plan to reach out to the millions of unorganized workers. In fact, under the Sweeney administration for the past dozen years, unions have become weaker, both at the bargaining table and in the political arena. The odds of building a bigger and stronger labor movement have shrunk to their lowest point.

Labor Leaders Don't Want Change; Cling to 'Status Quo'

So what are the AFL-CIO and CtW plans for the immediate future? They don't seem to have any. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and the 48-member Executive Council maintain their usual silence. They do not accept responsibility for labor's poor organizing record and legislative defeats.

The AFL-CIO Constitution contains an antiquated procedure for the choice and votes of delegates that guarantees the re-election of incumbents and excludes any potential challenger. In the past dozen years, the Sweeney teams has been re-elected three times without opposition, even though there was a continuing decline in membership and bargaining power. Yet neither Sweeney nor any member of the Executive Council will step forward to reform this outrageously undemocratic provision which perpetuates them in office.

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In this seven-part series, "Why Workers Don't Join," (get series on, we have suggested serious weaknesses in the AFL-CIO's structure, policies and practices that explain its failure to appeal to unorganized workers, despite the advantages of having a union card. If unions ever expect to regain their former size and economic power, they will have to involve large masses of their members in the organizing process.

Americans everywhere are clamoring for "change" after nearly eight years of George W. Bush. They are sick and tired of the treatment they have received from Washington in regard to the war in Iraq and the handling of the nation's economy. They've had enough of self-serving politicians, blundering policy-makers and corrupting lobbyists. They are expressing their hunger for positive change at political rallies and their votes in the caucuses and primaries.

Will some of the growing mantra for "change" and "yes, we can" rub off on AFL-CIO and CtW labor leaders? Or will they continue to cling to the status quo?