Magazine article Workforce Management

As Elections near, Unions Look to Sway Senate Races

Magazine article Workforce Management

As Elections near, Unions Look to Sway Senate Races

Article excerpt

ORGANIZED LABOR

With the election of the next U.S. president and key Senate seats drawing closer, a number of unions are coming together to lay the groundwork for their agenda.

Late last month, the Communication Workers of America, the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers announced an alliance "to help elect candidates who support working families and to advocate on public policy issues," according to a statement.

Topping the alliance's priority list is making sure the Employee Free Choice Act passes. The act, which failed to gain approval last year, would allow a union to form if a majority of workers signed cards authorizing a bargaining unit, thus making it easier for unions to organize. Under current law, a company can insist on a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

"We want to make sure that this legislation becomes veto-proof," says Marco Trbovich, a spokesman for the alliance.

The Employee Free Choice Act is crucial for the labor movement as it struggles with a declining membership. Manufacturing-based unions in particular are suffering from dwindling numbers. At the end of 2007, the UAW had 500,000 members, down from 1.5 million at its peak in 1979.

Although union membership is down, the labor movement still has a lot of political clout on Capitol Hill, experts say.

"Unions have gotten weaker, but that weakness is not reflected in the political arena," says Joshua Freeman, a professor of labor history at the City University of New York Graduate Center. "They are very effective in mobilizing their members and families. It's now fairly common to have one out of four votes in an election coming from a union household."

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have said that if they win the election, they will sign the Employee Free Choice Act into law. …

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