Three of the largest labor unions in the nation gave fresh
meaning to the slogan "Solidarity" Thursday in announcing their
plan to merge by the year 2000.
The proposal would form one union with about 2 million active
members, making it the largest industrial union in North America.
Following are snapshots of the players - the United Auto
Workers, the United Steelworkers of America and the International
Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.
The Machinists Union
Years of chaos in the airline industry and a shift of jobs to
subcontractors and overseas have been tough on the Machinists union.
With airlines hemorrhaging money in the early 1990s, the union
often had to make concessions to financially ailing carriers.
Cancellations or delays of new aircraft purchases and dwindling
defense work cost tens of thousands of jobs in aerospace.
More than 100,000 jobs also were lost in the small aircraft
industry, where steep liability insurance costs and soaring
aircraft prices all but halted manufacturing.
Despite mergers with other unions, including the International
Association of Woodworkers, Machinists membership tumbled from a
high of 1 million in 1973 to less than half that now.
But as consolidations helped airlines and aerospace
manufacturers become more powerful, merging with the Steelworkers
and Autoworkers should help the Machinists, says David Olson, labor
expert and political science professor at the University of
"The power of unions is always in numbers," Olson says.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace
Workers has a long history of militancy, including a 48-day strike
against Boeing in 1989 and a 1991 strike that spelled the end of
In recent years, though, union officials frequently have found
themselves inside the boardrooms and financial dealings of troubled
The Machinists and the Air Line Pilots Association led the $4.9
billion employee buyout of United Airlines last year. Pay cuts and
concessions also have been granted to USAir, TWA and Northwest
With airline profits recovering and aircraft orders
subsequently growing, the worst should be over, says Bill Johnson,
president of the Machinists' largest district, Seattle's
26,000-member District 751 at Boeing. Still to be resolved,
however, is the trend by Boeing and other companies to "outsource"
what has been union production work to subcontractors or to foreign
"Our membership has the ability, education and knowledge to do
things better," Johnson says.
The United Auto Workers
Merging with the Steelworkers and Machinists unions is viewed
as a logical step for the United Auto Workers, which has shrunk by
about half since 1979 as domestic carmakers cut back to meet
The clout and cash of a 2 million-member megaunion might help
the UAW organize workers in segments of its key industry where it
needs growth to stay relevant - independent parts companies and
U.S. operations of foreign automakers. It also would eliminate
competition with the Machinists for organizing aerospace workers.
"If you intend to head south, with mass organizing, three or
four massive unions together can be more effective than if they are
alone," said Sean McAlinden, a labor expert at the University of
Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.
A multimillion-dollar strike fund could give the merged union
more power at bargaining tables. "That can be a lot of banking
leverage, forcing corporations to listen better," said David
Yettaw, president of UAW Local 599 in Flint, Mich.
The UAW has been ravaged by the domestic auto industry's drive
for leanness. As plants have closed and parts-making and other
functions have been shifted to outside suppliers, hundreds of
thousands of UAW jobs have disappeared at General Motors, Ford and