Union membership declined again in 2004, a trend evident since Bureau of Labor Statistics monitoring which began in 1983. The percentage of union workers for 2004 was only 12.5%, compared with 20.1% in 1983. These figures reflect both private sector and government employees. In the private sector alone, union membership has declined to a mere 7.9% of the workforce, a figure about one-half what it was in 1983. AFL-CIO reports of affiliated unions indicate the same trend. Even though 105,000 new members were added in 2004, the losses from closings and permanent layoffs resulted in a net decrease of 167,775, bringing total AFL-CIO membership below 12 million.
In related news, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO completed a three-day meeting in early March devoted to reversing the decline in union membership and improving labor’s political influence. The Executive Council voted 14-8 to support President Sweeney’s proposals to spend more on political and grass-roots mobilization, and give rebates to unions that devote 30% of their budgets to organizing. The “mobilization” funds will come from earmarking half of the 61-cent-a-month tax per member that each union pays the AFL-CIO. Teamster President Hoffa has called for rebating 50% of the per capita tax to unions that commit either 10% of their budget or $2 million to organizing in key industries. The Hoffa proposal was supported by unions representing about 40% of AFL-CIO membership. Sweeney’s proposal would increase the current organizing fund to $15 million, while the Hoffa proposal would rebate $35 million back to member unions for organizing, according to Sweeney’s opponents. The fight will continue on the floor of the AFL-CIO convention this summer, where Sweeney is seeking re-election.
The NLRB General Counsel has issued a complaint against the Steelworkers Union and Heartland Industrial Partners, an investment firm, charging that their “card check” and “neutrality” agreements violate the secondary boycott provisions of Section 8(e) of the National Labor Relations Act. The agreement to require any acquired company that Heartland controlled to agree to be bound by such neutrality and card check agreements was a form of restrictive “hot cargo” agreement that the Act condemns. Section 8(e) prohibits unions and employers from having agreements where “the employer agrees to cease or refrain from handling, using, selling, transporting or otherwise dealing in any of the products of any other employer, or to cease doing business with any person.” Here, the agreement restricts Heartland’s ability to invest in other entities.
A vote to merge the United Steelworkers of America and PACE (Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers) would create the nation’s largest industrial union. The Steelworkers have 575,000 members and PACE 275,000. The merger, which is scheduled for vote in mid-April and is almost certain to pass, will affect the metals, paper and forestry products, tire and rubber, mining, glass, chemical, and energy industries. The Steelworkers and PACE claim that “additional density” will increase organizing opportunities, and further expand their presence in transportation, utilities, equipment and machinery, and the service sector.
An American Bar Association conference recently addressed the growing number of reversals of NLRB decisions by Bush appointees. Democrat Member Liebman finds disturbing the reversals of Clinton-era decisions, which have resulted in narrowing the scope of employees covered by the Act, narrowing coverage of employee protections, and unwillingness to apply the statute “dynamically to changing conditions.” Labor organizations are especially concerned over the NLRB’s plan to review cases involving an employer’s recognition of a union based on authorization cards, and the present rules that the union must have a “reasonable period” to bargain in such cases before a secret ballot election can be held. Republican Member Schaumber pointed out that since Republican appointees became a majority on the Board, it has so far reversed precedent in eight or nine cases – compared with 41 reversals of precedent made during the Clinton administration.
An NLRB ruling that an employer violated federal labor law by failing to provide information about the company’s use of outside contractors was recently upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Allegheny Power argued to the Court that it had provided the local union with all the information that it had about outside contractors; however, the Court found that the company had an affirmative obligation to make reasonable efforts to obtain more complete information from its contractors needed by the union to police the collective bargaining agreement. A dissenting judge found that the company had acted in good faith, that the union had failed to demonstrate a need for additional information, and that the Board had failed to address the company’s valid defenses. It bears repeating that the failure to furnish information in a bargaining context or in a litigation context is very difficult to justify.