AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka applauds as President Barack Obama speaks at the AFL-CIO, Tuesday, September 15, 2009, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The AFL-CIO is exploring new investments in alternative labor organizing and a multi-union effort to transform Texas, according to the union federation’s general counsel.
“There is a lot of interest in exploring non-traditional forms of membership, but also some reasonable skepticism about it,” AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker told The Nation in an interview in his Washington, DC, office last week. “What can they actually deliver? Can they be self-sustaining?…I think people within the AFL are at different places on it.”
Becker, who served as a member of the National Labor Relations Board during President Obama’s first term, currently oversees an “Initiative on the Future of Worker Representation,” one of several venues for soul-searching in the lead-up to the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention next month in Los Angeles. As I’ve reported, the past two decades have seen an explosion in the number of “alt-labor” groups organizing and mobilizing workers outside of traditional union representation or bargaining; such groups currently mostly rely on union or foundation funding. “I think our sense is those organizations are leading to collective bargaining,” said Becker. “Either in a more direct sense, like they’re building within a particular employer or industry, or in a more expansive sense.”
Becker said that members of the union-backed non-union group OUR Walmart have “shown that they do have some power. You can have strikes—they’re not the kind of strikes which close the employer and which lead to a collective bargaining agreement, but they are strikes which dramatize what’s happening in the workplace, which draw attention, and which create positive results.” Becker also noted the Communications Workers of America’s use of alternative organizational structures against the telecom giant T-Mobile, the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) organizing in states that deny public employees collective bargaining and the work of the AFL-CIO’s non-union affiliate Working America.
Becker said he hopes “the next stage” in the AFL-CIO’s work with such formations “will be some limited, thoughtful experiments…. Try it in different places through Working America, [and] through various affiliates” of the AFL-CIO. Would such efforts be backed by a dedicated funding source within the AFL-CIO? “I think,” said Becker, “that’s a question which will be answered to a large extent at the convention.”