Experts Split on Effects of Labor Shakeup

By Napsha, Joe | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 4, 2006 | Go to article overview

Experts Split on Effects of Labor Shakeup


Napsha, Joe, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Organizers hoped to reignite the trade union movement by enlisting new members, but one year later, experts remain split on the effects of the bitter AFL-CIO divorce that formed a new labor federation of 6 million members.

"It's still too early to tell whether it will succeed in reversing the decline of organized labor," says labor expert Marick F. Masters, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

The Change to Win Federation was created in June 2005 by the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the UNITE HERE hotel and restaurant workers union, Laborers' International Union, United Farm Workers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

The AFL-CIO had let organizing efforts slip, said SEIU President Andrew Stern.

The Change to Win Federation "has encouraged unions to think about new organizing strategies and to place more emphasis on organizing than in the past," said Masters, the director of Pitt's Center on Conflict Resolution and Negotiation.

When the AFL-CIO was formed in 1955, unions represented 16.8 million members and almost 26 percent of the nation's workforce. Organized labor now represents 15.7 million workers, or 12.5 percent of the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Change to Win Federation members were unhappy with the AFL-CIO's failure to stop membership losses under John Sweeney's leadership. Unions represented about 18.4 million members -- almost 15 percent of the workforce -- when he took over in 1995.

The AFL-CIO "has wasted a lot of time and money on social issues that don't affect their members and that their members don't agree with," says University of Maryland business professor Peter Morici.

For example, the AFL-CIO has aligned itself with Democrats who are pro-choice and support gay rights and feminist issues. Those stances rankle many of its members, Morici said.

But predictions that the breakup of the AFL-CIO would further weaken the labor movement have not come to pass, said Robert Bruno, associate professor at the Institute of Labor & Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard still views the split as a huge mistake.

Gerard and others believe a united AFL-CIO would have more clout in changing labor laws. A New York attorney who represents management in disputes with organized labor agrees.

"It cuts the legs out from under labor, because they have less and less membership," said attorney Zachary A. Hummel, of Bryan Cave in New York City. "If you're going to buy influence, you have less money to spend. …

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