February 2, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The latest government report detailing stagnant union membership nationwide was glum indeed, but labor leaders here have a spate of strategies that could begin to turn things around in 2015.
Labor’s strongest foothold in the U.S. remains in New York State, where union density hovers around 25 percent. However, union membership among wage and salary workers nationwide is actually down 0.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In response to that oppressive reality, New York labor leaders are stressing the continued importance of organizing and political action – as well as a couple of other challenging new initiatives that run the gamut from enforcing existing labor laws to rallying for single payer healthcare.
“The labor movement needs to remain politically engaged and play a larger role in 2015 than it did in 2014,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, tells LaborPress. “We need to take the model of what we have in New York City and bring it to the national stage – working with CBOs, running candidates, and moving legislation. This should be the top priority – we need to get our message out and do it in this holistic way through collaboration.”
Susan Kent, president of the 54,000-member Public Employees Federation, also emphasizes the need for a truly collaborative spirit amongst labor unions in the new year.
“Unity of purpose among unions is long overdue,” Kent tells LaborPress. “It is not enough to join forces on economic issues; we must unite around political candidates as well. We must grow and support our own.”
Genuine solidarity certainly appears to be the order of the day. Horror tales of rising anti-union sentiment have become all-too common across the nation.
A California Walmart worker named Markeith Washington is currently seeking support in his fight with a supervisor who allegedly hurled racial epitaphs at non-union employees, and even declared, “If it was up to me, I’d put that rope around your neck.”
At the same time, another non-unionized worker employed at a McDonald’s in North Carolina, recently Tweeted that her manager actually slapped her on the job.
Gene Carroll, co-director of the New York State AFL-CIO/Cornell Union Leadership Institute, advocates mobilizing the nation’s 12 million unionized workers, and creating a special fund that can be used to bolster unrepresented men and women languishing in the workforce.
“Each of the 12 million workers will be asked to contribute $10 a year for the next five years to establish an organizing and solidarity fund to support unorganized and immigrant workers seeking protection through collective action,” Carroll told LaborPress in an email.
Davon Lomax, political director, District Council 9 Painters & Allied Trades says that the labor movement can reverse its fortunes through a combination of community organizing – connecting with like-minded people outside of labor – and being non-partisan.
“My Union in NYC and around the nation has committed to doing this with our C.O.R.E [Community Organizing for Real Economics] initiative,” Lomax says. “We have taken major strides in organizing outside communities on the issues that effect all of us.”
New York State may continue to be the “bastion” of unionism, but unrepresented workers continue to suffer greatly here as well.
“Labor must work harder than ever to organize the unorganized workers that are being exploited every day on projects all over this city,” John J. Murphy, business manager, UA Local #1 tells LaborPress. “Every worker deserves the chance to earn a fair wage, protect their family's health and one day retire with dignity.”
The Local #1 business manager points to a recent article in Crain's which highlighs developers who have found a way to build “multi-million dollar luxury high-rise buildings cheaper using non-union labor.”
More precisely, Murphy says what the author failed to mention is that, “Developers can now make even more money using workers who are underpaid, untrained, and have no healthcare coverage.”
Councilman Miller also says that labor must broaden its efforts and “organize not just for membership – but rather around issues and policies that impact working people in addition to industries.”
“Just like in our political message, we need to tie these into each other in a cohesive way,” the councilman says.