Unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO hope to rebuild the tattered labor movement by targeting workers in growing industries such as health...
WASHINGTON — Unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO hope to rebuild the tattered labor movement by targeting workers in growing industries such as health care, waste control and security.
“We want to identify jobs that can’t be shipped overseas,” Teamsters President James Hoffa said yesterday.
The targeted industries, which also include food service and businesses that cater to retirees, account for 30 million to 45 million workers, said Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He said workers in these industries, which employ a large number of immigrants and minorities who do not have college degrees, aren’t paid fairly.
“We are living through the most profound transformative economic revolution in world history as we go from a manufacturing to a service-and-information economy and from a local and national economy to an international economy,” Stern said.
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The AFL-CIO was not adapting to the new economy with its global reach and fast-growing industries in service, health care and security, the labor leaders said.
“The AFL-CIO is the United Nations and we’re NATO,” Stern said, reflecting the belief of the breakaway union leaders that the labor federation was not adapting quickly enough to the changes. It’s critical for labor to organize whole sectors of the economy to avoid industries competing to see which one can pay the lowest wages, Stern said.
“We’re talking about organizing wholesale, not retail,” Stern said. “It requires a different thinking.”
The labor leaders said the movement needs to do a better job of educating workers and consumers about the importance of boosting wages and keeping jobs in America. He also said a key to the new labor strategy is to do more organizing overseas.
The labor movement is changing to a global effort because companies now have a global presence, Stern said.
The Teamsters and SEIU broke away from the AFL-CIO in late July, saying the labor federation was spending too much time on politics and not enough on recruiting new members. The United Food and Commercial Workers broke away soon after that, meaning three of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO representing more than 4 million workers were leaving the federation of more than 50 labor unions that had numbered 13 million workers.
Several others, including the Laborers, Unite Here and the United Farm Workers have joined the breakaway unions in the Change to Win Coalition, but those three are still in the AFL-CIO. The Carpenters’ Union, which left the AFL-CIO in 2001, has also joined the new labor coalition.
Hoffa said the new labor group plans to hold a one-day convention in St. Louis on Sept. 27.
Stern and Hoffa acknowledged they face a difficult task rebuilding labor’s strength.
When the AFL-CIO formed 50 years ago, union membership was at its zenith, with one of every three private-sector workers belonging to a labor group. Now, less than 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionized.
“Corporate America is incredibly strong, people are out to bury us right now,” Stern said. “We’re trying to climb out of a hole that took an awful long time to dig, but we’re going to climb out.”