Dissension in Union Ranks

Discussion
Jul 26, 2005
George Anderson

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

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8 Comments on "Dissension in Union Ranks"


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Lisa Everitt
Guest
Lisa Everitt
15 years 7 months ago
As a former member of the Denver Newspaper Guild (Communications Workers of America Local 37075) and later the freelancers’ National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981), I beg to differ with the Doc. I voluntarily joined the Newspaper Guild — I worked in an open shop — because I had lived the difference between union and nonunion jobs in the newspaper business. When my salary more than doubled overnight to something resembling a living wage, it was hard not to pay attention. So I kicked in dues to the organization that made it possible. Here’s my problem with organized labor: it picks the low-hanging fruit. The Guild took care of us at the big papers, but never made a run at the small-market papers where nobody but the publisher makes any money. Unions are perceived, as Mark said, as fat old guys gladhanding politicians and throwing money around in Washington instead of using it to improve the lives of ordinary working folks. So any effort to be courageous, and organize people who really have… Read more »
Bob Bridwell
Guest
Bob Bridwell
15 years 7 months ago

If you compare the the private and public sector unions, you find the public sector has the bulk — nearly 60% — of the membership.

Speaking of the economy as a whole, what we need is more manufacturing jobs.

Sorry to say that labor and management are now reaping the bitter results of years of giving too much and taking too much, assuming the status quo would remain. Pensions and healthcare promises are made, then the company can no longer compete and goes bankrupt and the retirement benefits are gone or severely diminished. High labor and benefit costs; or poor management; or both?

As to WM, they do offer a competitive wage and benefits. They may be below UFCW levels, but they are a “living wage” in lots of places. So the UFCW and others are irrelevant to most people. A new name for an old, and in some cases discredited idea, is hard to sell.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 7 months ago

Clearly, few if any of today’s commentators have held union jobs. George Anderson writes, “In the past, many joined unions because of the security they believed came with collective bargaining.” That’s a nice thought about the far distant past, but nearly all union members join because IT’S REQUIRED TO GET A JOB. UNIONS CONTROL JOBS. Union membership is not optional, but required to carry your lunch bucket onto a jobsite. Just ask any violinist, (legal) driver, teacher, lifeguard, or meatcutter if they had a choice.

But today, a choice is emerging, and people like choices. Workers no longer are required to pledge part of their income — and cede their political opinions — to get a job. Further, they’re finally connecting the dots to understand that unions are anti-business and anti-employer.

So that’s the point: Workers want to be fairly and accurately represented, and they want to work on a job without being required to be members of a union.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 7 months ago
I was amused that one of the reasons cited for the split was the level of political support the AFL-CIO was providing to candidates. I guess the horses they bet on either didn’t line up with the sentiments of the rank and file or were viewed as a waste because so many of their candidates were not successful. The future of Unions COULD be very strong if they would take the attitude of working toward preserving manufacturing jobs and/or reducing the cost of goods and/or services. Union’s survival is going to be dependent on their partnership with owners. The manufacturing sector has learned that it’s cheaper to just move offshore and rid themselves of any and all union issues. This may seem un-American or cruel but the fact is that businesses exist to reward owners. They aren’t social welfare organizations. If unions would take the lead in screening employees, looking for better ways to accomplish goals and tie their compensation to company success they could probably become meaningful and even be welcome by employers. The… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 7 months ago
Thought One: The decision by the Teamsters and the 1.8 million- member SEIU to leave the AFL-CIO could undermine efforts to organize workers and elect sympathetic public officials. The SEIU dues are a significant part of labor councils’ budgets. Thought Two: The split might, however, re-energize the labor movement by providing the jolt the AFL-CIO needs to compete for clout and resources against two of the most powerful unions. Thought Three: It’s unlikely that the AFL-CIO will allow its unions to work with the SEIU and the Teamsters, even on the local level. Instead it is more likely that the dissident unions could try to recruit or raid workers from the AFL-CIO-affiliated unions, or vice versa. Thought Four: The Teamsters and the SEIU along with the UFCW and UNITED HERE, a group of textile and hotel workers, have vows to accomplish what the AFL-CIO has failed to do: reverse the decades-long decline in union membership. The effect of this split is that it forces the labor movement, or some sector of it, to figure out… Read more »
Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
15 years 7 months ago
The initial thought when I heard of this break up was that “the labor back has been broken.” Given the already weakened position, this seemed to be the “death knell” for collective bargaining. My second thought is more encompassing. In addition to bolstering their ranks in existing areas (such as retail), union officials are recognizing there is a whole new group of workers they could potentially organize. We’ve read about doctors forming collective groups to fight the HMO’s. Other professionals are facing competition from overseas and many white collar workers are seeing companies renege on retirement and health care promises. Apparently one of the big complaints from the union members has been the use of funds for campaign financing in an attempt to “purchase legislation.” Instead, these members would rather see the money spent on increasing votes by expanding the recruitment efforts. Despite all the money donated to campaigns, the unions have seen their candidates fail to get elected. Maybe by increasing the number of members they will both improve their own health and get… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

As we continue to move to an ownership society, it’s an uphill battle for unions. Some of our most successful retailers are non-union employee-owned chains. They have no use for unions and no use for Wall Street. I predict the ownership movement will continue in this country. Especially if Social Security is overhauled and converted to personal accounts and most of the country moves to high deductible health plans.

Recently I have been studying the price that supermarkets are being sold for. Non-union supermarkets seem to sell for a nice premium over similar volume unionized stores. Unions are viewed as an expense and not an asset to owners and investors. Until unions figure out a way to prove they can improve shareholder equity, they will not be welcome in an ownership society.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

The most important step would be for the new labor organization to avoid competing with the AFL-CIO unions for the same new members. When more than 1 union goes after the same group simultaneously, the result is confusion and the employer’s message will dominate.

The new labor group will do well if they take these steps:

1. Recruit relatively young charismatic figures to be their faces to the public. The great growth of unions in the 1930’s was partly due to the Depression and New Deal legislation, but the day-to-day work was done by young, hungry, charismatic leaders at the grassroots and national level. Many national union leaders look like fat old guys with anti-charm.

2. Do professional market research to understand the easiest opportunities and how to best approach them. I doubt that WM is the easiest opportunity, and it pays to get some small wins and some momentum before attacking the “big guy.”

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