Facing a “crisis” of membership, as AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka called it, the largest federation of unions in America adopted a resolution this week that invites anyone in the country to join, regardless of union affiliation, according to The Hill.
The number of workers belonging to a labor union has dropped to historic lows, particularly in the private sector, with few signs of this trend changing any time soon.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows union membership in the public sector fell by over a full percentage point in 2012, from 37 to 35.9 percent, while it dropped from 6.9 to 6.6 percent in the private sector.
The decision to open enrollment was expected as Trumka acknowledged back in March that union membership has fallen to record lows and called for a strategy to target non-union workers.
“We must open up union membership and make the benefits of representation available to all workers,” Trumpka said while speaking at a University of Illinois event in Chicago.
The move did face resistance from some union officials, as noted by the Hill, who fear the AFL-CIO’s primary mission of representing workers will be left behind if the federation becomes a mouthpiece for liberal and progressive groups.
Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, gave credence to such a concern when he said: “This resolution issues an invitation to every worker in the United States to join the movement for social justice.”
While the new direction could help bolster thinning ranks and bring renewed energy, the strategy is already underway in the form of “worker centers” — and appears to have additional benefits.
Worker centers are a product of unions and funded by them to provide access to non-unionized workers while dodging legal requirements and disclosures, according to the new watchdog group Worker Center Watch.
A few of the major worker centers currently operating across the country:
- Coalition of Immokalee Workers
- Fight for 15/Fast Food Forward
- O.U.R. Walmart
“Unions are dying. In their desperate attempt to recruit new members after years of declines, they are utilizing the worker center model to skirt the labor relations laws that have governed their operation for nearly a century,” spokesman Ryan Williams said Tuesday in a press release.
“Accepting worker center members is the latest step in a last ditch effort for relevance and survival,” the statement continued.
As the release noted, Worker Center Watch monitors linkages between these organizations and their union benefactors, as well as their aggressive, in some cases unlawful, protest tactics. The organizations web site includes a mapping function that allows users to search for worker centers operating in their area.