Trumka: AFL-CIO To Probe New Ways Of Organizing

CHICAGO —The AFL-CIO will probe new ways of organizing to meet the changes in the economy since the labor federation was founded in 1955 and since labor law was written 77 years ago, federation President Richard Trumka says.

Trumka made that promise in a major speech in Chicago on March 7 to the Conference on New Models for Worker Representation, hosted by the University of Illinois at Chicago.  It preceded a mass rally, with union leaders and Chicago-area labor groups, for immigration reform – the opening event in a national campaign.

Trumka gave no details about what new organizing models the federation might adopt or recommend to its 57 member unions.  But he laid out some alternatives that are already occurring, such as sponsorship and affiliation with worker centers.

“To be blunt, our basic system of workplace representation is failing to meet the needs of America’s workers by every critical measure.  The numbers give us all the proof we need,” he said.

“Not even 7% of the private workforce has the security and stability of a union contract.  For the past few decades, falling union membership in the private sector was offset by the growth of public unions. But public union membership is now falling, too, partly from job losses caused by the recession, but also because of political attacks.

“Union density has been falling for years, and so has the fate of America’s middle class. A chart of union membership rates and the fortunes of America’s middle class shows twin red lines, falling together. The two are connected. It could not be more clear….This is bad for our economy and this is bad for America.”

Trumka cited several examples of new ways of organizing, pledging the AFL-CIO could use or recommend any or all of them, or more.  They included:

  • Creation of Working America, which now has 3.2 million members.
  • Partnership agreements with worker centers, the National Day Laborers Network, the Taxi Workers Alliance and similar groups that organize workers who are now often considered “independent contractors.”
  •  “Making union membership available to a worker, even if they do not fit neatly into the definition of an ‘employee,’” under labor law.  AFSCME and SEIU are doing that with home health care workers, he noted.


“We are not going to rebuild the labor movement solely through NLRB elections and voluntary recognition by employers, no matter how smart and strategic our campaigns,” he said. “The AFL-CIO’s door has to be — and will be — open to any worker or group of workers who wants to organize and build power in the workplace.”