For years now, it has not exactly been a secret that labor organizations are struggling to maintain and build membership in most sectors of the American workforce. Despite the presence of a Democratic president and a Democratic majority on Capitol Hill, labor organizations have fought losing battles over the past few years, including declines in union membership as a whole, failures in collective bargaining, and unsuccessful attempts at passing union-friendly legislation in Washington, D.C. Some believe the reason for such anti-union activity is a perceived diminishing need or use for unions in the world today. By contrast, others have opined that the decline in union strength will simply lead to the disappearance of the middle class.
Seeking some way to turn the tide, last weekend, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. – which describes itself as an “umbrella federation” for 57 different unions across the United States – kicked off a convention in Los Angeles and openly acknowledged that labor was in crisis and things needed to change. Five thousand individuals were expected to attend the convention, including labor leaders, union representatives, and even President Obama (who later cancelled due to the situation in Syria), all with the goal of coming up with new strategies to revive the labor movement. The federation president asserted that labor organizations were going to have to experiment and continue to band together, as they occasionally did in the past, in order to bring some power back to unions. He even trumped some recent examples of such banding together: for example, and as we have recently mentioned, soon after the unions in Seattle effectively fought for laws requiring paid sick leave, unions in Portland and New York City launched similar campaigns.
One of the A.F.L-C.I.O.’s goals is to reinvent labor by creating completely new groups of organized labor. Unions hope to pursue this goal by reaching out to student organizations, young workers, laid off workers, and groups of low-paid workers with the hope of expanding the number of individuals who would be covered under this so-called umbrella.
More notably following the A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention, the federation announced that it intends to invite union membership to any employee who is not a union member or represented by a union, whether or not the employee works for a unionized employer. In his speech at the convention, the federation president stated that “all working people will rise together, or we will keep falling together.” The goal is to reach out to even those groups who may not be covered under the National Labor Relations Act, such as taxi cab drivers, day laborers, and domestic workers. So what can unions offer employees who work for nonunionized employers? The federation said that it plans on acting as an advocacy group, providing workers with knowledge about workplace laws and support when employees believe such laws have been violated. These nonunion workers may have a different financial structure when it comes to paying dues, but could still be eligible for certain union-only benefits. These new union members will be encouraged to spread the word and, in essence, campaign to their coworkers, with the hope that those in favor of unions will surpass the 51 percent threshold required for employees to bargain collectively.
Right now, while these proposals and resolutions are perhaps indicative of the uphill battle labor organizations face, it will be interesting to see, over the next several months, if these goals and strategies actually come to fruition and flip the declining labor movement. In the meantime, employers want to consider steps they can take to avoid union organizing at their businesses.