Labor Unions Poised for a Resurgence with Change in Tactics

Article excerpt

Byline: Andy Lewis For blue chip

Since private sector union membership peaked at roughly 35 percent in 1953, the number of American workers affiliated with labor unions has hit an all-time low, dropping to just 7.4 percent in 2006. But for those who assume that downward trend will continue, think again.

In 2007, overall union membership went up for the first time in years, and while the increase was small, experts predict the percentage of private sector union membership will continue to rise.

Why, in this competitive business climate, are employees rethinking the need for a labor union? The answers are varied and include job security, skyrocketing health insurance premiums and stagnant wages. Another factor is increased competition within unions themselves. Change to Win, a new labor federation that emerged from an acrimonious split within the AFL-CIO in 2005, has budgeted 75 percent of its annual budget - nearly $750 million - to organizing campaigns.

To fuel its resurgence the organized labor movement has fundamentally changed its tactics. Gone are the days of union organizers distributing fliers in the company break room. Today, organizing campaigns are conducted electronically through e-mail, blogs and Web sites, allowing the entire campaign to occur without the employer's knowledge.

In another significant change, unions are taking a more proactive approach instead of waiting for disgruntled employees to search out a union. Strategists for Change to Win, for example, identify particular employers and industries and run corporate-wide campaigns, targeting employers in the retail, health care, insurance and services industries.

UNITE HERE, another labor union, has spent more than five years trying to organize a single national employer. And the focus is not just on large employers. In 2005, 70 percent of union elections involved bargaining units of fewer than 50 employees.

Unions are also drawing on Congress for assistance. In 2007, for example, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). While the bill eventually died in the Senate, many Washington insiders believe the bill will eventually become law regardless of who wins the White House in November. …