AFL-CIO cutting staff as union membership declines

posted at 10:41 pm on February 23, 2017 by John Sexton

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics union membership hit an all-time low in 2016 of just 10.7 percent. That decline has consequences for unions like the AFL-CIO, which Bloomberg reports is dismissing dozens of staff members:

The AFL-CIO is dismissing dozens of staff members as part of a restructuring amid continuing declines in union membership and fresh political threats to labor rights.

“We will have to end support for some programs that don’t go to our core priorities,” said AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein, who declined to discuss the number of staff affected. “This is about reimagining and realigning our core priorities to best serve our affiliates.”

The affected employees, who include both union members and management, were informed Wednesday and Thursday of the cuts. Three people familiar with the cutback said several dozen jobs were lost.

Bloomberg notes that the AFL-CIO’s federal filings indicate it has around 400 employees, so a loss of several dozen probably represents a decline of around 10 percent.

The union spokesman blamed the downsizing on “well-financed anti-union opposition” but it’s really the result of former members who have been freed up by right-to-work laws to not have union dues taken from their paychecks. Wisconsin saw a decrease of over 100,000 union members after the passage of ACT 10 in 2011. Michigan, which passed a right-to-work law in 2013, lost 20,000 union members between 2015 and last year.

AFL-CIO is not the only union to downsize since Trump was elected. In December the SEIU announced it was planning for 30% budget cuts. From Bloomberg:

“Because the far right will control all three branches of the federal government, we will face serious threats to the ability of working people to join together in unions,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry wrote in an internal memo dated Dec. 14. “These threats require us to make tough decisions that allow us to resist these attacks and to fight forward despite dramatically reduced resources.” After citing the need to “dramatically re-think” how to implement the union’s strategy, Henry’s all-staff letter announces that SEIU “must plan for a 30% reduction” in the international union’s budget by Jan. 1, 2018, including a 10 percent cut effective at the start of 2017.

These lost union members probably aren’t coming back until Democrats retake enough seats in state legislatures to put an end to right-to-work laws. But with less money and staff to work with, winning back lost ground becomes that much harder.


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