The AFL-CIO Hopes to Rally Its Way Out of a Hole

By December 6, 2005Labor Unions

We’ve not written much about the AFL-CIO since they fabulously — and very publicly — splintered a few months back, but now comes an AP story reporting on the AFL-CIO’s plans for a series of rallies worldwide this week to call attention to we’re not really sure what. But what the hey — it’s a good week for a rally. AFL President John Sweeney says workers have lost the right to organize (they haven’t) and says, according to Will Lester’s piece, “he expects the week will draw attention to the importance of unions and help educate the public about the difficulty some workers face getting a fair deal at work and trying to organize unions.” Whatever.

A labor apologist/professor is quoted as saying that the labor skates are in a “deep crisis” in terms of organizing (he’s right), and goes on to opine that “It’s a vicious cycle. As membership declines, there is less revenue and less to spend on organizing new workers.”

Well, let’s review the bidding here: The AFL-CIO has spent — wasted, really — hundreds of millions on politics in recent years. They spent untold sums battling one another recently in the run-up to their split. To defeat Prop 75 in California alone — which would have required unions to stoop so low as to get their members’ permission before they flushed their money down the rathole — they spent in excess of a hundred million dollars.

A hundred million dollars.

So forgive us if we don’t have much sympathy for the AFL and its declining numbers. The AP story of course has the obligatory mention — blame, in labor’s eyes — of President Reagan and his firing of the air traffic controllers almost a quarter century ago. The fact that the AFL-CIO was in decline before then and continued in decline for the 8 years of the union-friendly Clinton Administration matters little.

At the end of the day, as we’ve said in this space many, many times is that it’s not money, it’s not President Reagan, it’s not the statute (the same statute under which they once saw fabulous success). Unfortunately, for the AFL-CIO, when it comes to declining numbers, the problem is 30 years of misplaced priorities, 30 years of focusing on politics instead of organizing.

Unfortunately for John Sweeney and his minions, it’ll take more than a rally to fix it.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • worker says:

    Report Says Union Membership Declining
    Due to Company Tactics to Stymie Organizing

    Union membership in the United States is not declining because workers no longer want or need unions, but instead the decline is directly related to employers’ use of legal and illegal tactics to stymie union organizing, according to a new report released Dec. 6.

    The 35-page report, Undermining the Right to Organize: Employer Behavior During Union Representation Campaigns, was issued by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development. It was commissioned by American Rights at Work, a nonprofit advocacy organization, and released at events in several cites as part of the AFL-CIO’s mobilization around International Human Rights Day.

    The findings of the report are based on a survey of 62 organizing drives conducted in the Chicago metropolitan area during 2002. Researchers reviewed data provided by the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago regional office on all organizing campaigns conducted by unions among previously unorganized workers. The researchers also conducted case studies of 25 of the campaigns and interviewed union organizers, workers, and NLRB officials.

    Among the report’s findings: 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers; 49 percent threaten to close a worksite when workers attempt to organize; 51 percent coerce employees into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism; 82 percent hire unionbusting consultants; and 91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with supervisors.

    In releasing the report, David Bonior, the chair of American Rights at Work, said that “employer interference continues to be off the charts–with devastating consequences for workers.”

    In 91 percent of the cases surveyed for the report, a majority of workers indicated at the beginning of the drive that they wanted union representation, but after being exposed to employer “unionbusting” activity, only 31 percent of these campaigns resulted in a union being selected, he said.

    “Our research clearly shows that firings, bribes, and threats are pervasive and that these actions greatly impede workers’ ability to form unions,” added report co-author and CUED director Nik Theodore.

    Number of Tactics Linked to Union Success, Failure

    The survey found that when employers use various legal or illegal tactics during an organizing campaign they “substantially increase the likelihood that the union will lose its majority status within voting units.” Those who use a “multitude of tactics” are more likely in their efforts to prevent unionization. In campaigns where employers used one to five tactics, the union success rate was 73 percent. However, when 11 to 16 tactics were used, the union success rate plunged to 17 percent.

    According to the survey, in 2002 labor unions in Chicago filed 179 petitions with the NLRB for unrepresented workers at private-sector companies. The NLRB only held an election in 124 of the campaigns; the remaining petitions were withdrawn by the unions because support eroded to a point they did not think they could win. In the 124 elections held, unions were successful in only 45 percent, the report said.

    The report noted that nearly all of the unions filed their petitions with majority support; 91 percent had signed cards from 50 percent of workers, and in some cases unions had 80 percent of signed authorization cards. “Nevertheless, unions lost elections in nearly half of the campaigns where the majority of workers indicated they supported the union at the time the union filed its petition with the NLRB.”

    Unions are losing NLRB representation elections because support among employees was eroded between the time the union filed the petition and the date the election was held, the report said.

    “What frustrates unions and workers is that employer campaigns take place under the guise of a democratic election process organized by federal authorities. It would be one thing if unions failed to achieve majority status in the voting units they seek to represent. However, unions are demonstrating majority support in their election petitions only to see employers undermine that support using tactics that are, at a minimum, contrary to the spirit of the law. Employers frequently threaten, coerce, and otherwise use tactics to undermine workers trying to organize a union, as well as spend thousands of dollars to hire consultants to guide their campaigns because the law does not adequately discourage such activities,” the report said.

    NLRB Election Process Criticized

    According to the report, the NLRB election process is “partly responsible for why unions lose support among the majority of workers by the time the election is held.” The NLRB target for holding an election is 42 days from the filing of the petition, which gives employers enough time to “run their anti-union campaigns,” the report said. During that 42 days, employers have access to the employees throughout the work day while unions have to track down workers after work or on the weekend. If 42 days proves to be insufficient for the campaign, employers often delay the election through a number of means, including challenging the composition of the unit, the report said. For example, in one campaign the employer argued that lead workers in the unit the union was seeking to organize were supervisors not eligible to be included. The hearing on that issue added a two-month delay to the holding of an election.

    The report concluded that the right of workers to freely form a union does not exist for thousands of workers in Chicago, and recommended several changes in the National Labor Relations Act:
    “The election process should be overhauled to allow the NLRB to hold elections immediately after unions have filed petitions. In cases where a majority of workers have already signed a petition or card expressing their desire to collectively bargain with their employer through the union, requiring these workers to vote again is neither democratic nor fair. In these cases, the NLRB should be allowed to certify the union as the workers’ bargaining representative and require employers to bargain.”

    The report also recommended amending the NLRA to allow the NLRB to impose penalties on employers for violating the law, as a way to “deter employers from violating the law in the first place.”

    Copies of the report can be downloaded from the Internet at