Dissension in Union Ranks
By George Anderson
The decision by the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to leave the AFL-CIO has cast doubt over the future of organized labor in the U.S.
The decision by the two unions to leave takes away approximately 25 percent of the AFL-CIO membership.
The Teamsters and SEIU will focus their attention on driving union membership through their Change to Win Coalition. It is expected that other unions unhappy with the direction
the AFL-CIO has taken in recent years will eventually follow. Among these is the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
The split within the union movement came about over criticism that the AFL-CIO, under the leadership of John Sweeney, has spent too little to recruit new members in growing segments
of the economy, such as service industries. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, only eight percent of workers in service businesses are union members.
SEIU President Andrew Stern said at the AFL-CIO convention where the split was announced, “Our economy has changed. Employers have changed…but the AFL-CIO is not willing to
make fundamental change as well.”
The poster child for the union movement’s failure in the service industry has been Wal-Mart.
Fred Feinstein, visiting professor and senior fellow at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and former general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, said
the odds are against the unions. “Employers have complete control over the work environment to get out their message, while workers are limited to where and when they can discuss
a pro-union message on the premises and the union can’t even get on the premises,” he said.
Moderator’s Comment: What will the Change to Win Coalition movement mean for unionized labor in retailing and other service sectors? What do unions,
such as the UFCW, need to do to establish their reason for being with workers they are trying to recruit?
While it is true that unions do not have the access to workers that employers have, we would suggest the problems unions have had with recruiting at Wal-Mart
and elsewhere is that they have failed to prove to workers what benefits are associated with voting for the union.
Virtually everywhere you turn in recent years, retail industry employers with unionized workforces have lost ground to non-union businesses resulting in
layoffs and benefit reductions for members of the unions.
In the past, many joined unions because of the security they believed came with collective bargaining. Today, union representation does not represent security.
Until labor finds something of real value they can offer workers that employers won’t take away, no amount of money or organizing will make any difference.
It’s no longer enough to paint the boss as the bad guy if the group doing the painting can prove without question that it is the good guy.
– George Anderson – Moderator