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AFL-CIO's Own Workers Threaten a Strike

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka frequently lambastes companies for not “sharing the wealth” with employees. Joining a union is a surefire way to see an increase in pay and benefits, he argues. Surely, then, the AFL-CIO must practice what it preaches by providing its own staff with above-average pay and benefits, right?

Or maybe not. It now appears that the AFL-CIO is not so willing to stand with its own employees. That’s why the AFL-CIO’s own staff is speaking out against the injustice and fundamental indignities they face working for the labor union.

The AFL-CIO is currently attempting to impose a contract on its employees that includes “a three-year pay freeze, less reliable hours, cuts to sick leave and weaker seniority rights,” according to the Washington Post.

AFL-CIO janitors, secretaries, and accountants represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) were quick to point out the hypocrisy of such a contract offer. In a statement, OPEIU said, “If a company tried to force a contract like this, we believe that the AFL-CIO would deplore the company as anti-union.” The OPEIU has even gone so far as calling the AFL-CIO explicitly “anti-union.”

In response to the lowball offer, the AFL-CIO employees unanimously voted on Tuesday to authorize a strike. OPEIU, as of yet, has not announced when it would call for a strike, but it is planning to march outside the union’s swanky Washington, D.C. headquarters.

The hypocrisy of the situation is not lost on AFL-CIO employees and the OPEIU. Jessica Maiorca, spokeswoman for OPEIU Local 2, said “How do we expect people to take us seriously when we’re not providing employees the benefits we think our union members need?”

That is a good a question, especially since the OPEIU is an AFL-CIO affiliate. This means a portion of OPEIU member dues are kicked up to the AFL-CIO. It must be galling to workers that they are essentially paying the AFL-CIO to play hardball with them in contract negotiations. Not only that, OPEIU dues are also paying for Richard Trumka’s $300,000 annual salarywealth that, presumably, is not getting shared. 

Unfortunately for workers, labor unions have long been more concerned with maintaining their political power and authority to force workers to pay dues against their will than providing benefits to their members.

These perverse priorities are revealed in how the AFL-CIO spends dues payments. On an annual basis, the AFL-CIO spends considerably more on politics and lobbying than representational activities, according to its financial reports submitted to the Department of Labor. In its most recent filing, the AFL-CIO only spent $14,935,068 on representational activity compared to $24,358,162 on politics.

It’s time for Congress to update labor laws that unfairly favor union bosses at the expense of workers. A surefire way to ensure unions listen and serve workers is for Congress to pass the Employee Rights Act. The legislation guarantees workers the right to a secret-ballot election when voting on union representation. Currently, unions may organize workers via card-check elections, where unions confront workers and use deception and intimidation to coerce employees to sign a card in favor of unionization.

The bill would also protect workers against inherited unions by instituting union recertification elections. This is a crucial protection because most unions organized workplaces decades ago, which means most workers did not vote on the union that represents them. Only seven percent of unionized workers actually voted on the union that currently represents them, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Labor Relations Board. The Employee Rights Act fixes this problem by requiring a secret-ballot election when the workforce has turned over by more than 50 percent since the last election.

It is unlikely labor union leaders will change their ways and spend more time and money on developing the skills of their own members and representing them at the workplace. Union membership has been in sharp decline for decades without any hint of a course correction from union bosses. The least Congress can do is give workers the freedom to choose and not trap workers in unions they do not want.