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March 10, 2005

Massive Layoffs Planned At The AFL-CIO

The Washington Times reports that the AFL-CIO is planning to lay off 80 to 100 staffers in response to last weeks decision to restructure the federation, devoting more money to political action. The AFL-CIO currently employs 421 persons.

Robert Welsh, chief of staff for AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney didn't say when the cuts will come or identify which workers are likely to lose their jobs.

"The first step is to develop a new blueprint for what staffing and capacity should look like, given the vision that Sweeney laid out and the executive council signed off on," said Denise Mitchell, special assistant to Mr. Sweeney.

Last week the AFL-CIO Executive Council voted to increase spending on political and legislative activity from $32 million to $45 million annually. The Council rejected a proposal by the Teamsters, SEIU and other unions that would have rebated $35 million -- or 50% of the AFL-CIO's income -- from the Federation's budget to unions to use for organizing.

No word yet on what this means for the AFL-CIO health and safety department but thing aren't looking too good.

The whole debate seems to have come down to a chicken and egg fight over whether we need to go after political change first in order to be able to organize, or organize first in order to build a big enough membership to effect political change.

In my humble opinion there is no doubt that organizing has to come first. To get the major changes in labor law that the labor movement needs to make mass organizing possible, you would not only need a (liberal) Democratic president, but large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. (Maybe in my childrens' lifetime...) On the other hand, organizing Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, isn't going to be quick and easy either.

But I don't agree that slashing the AFL-CIO's budget is the way to get there. The relatively small amount of money that would go back into the unions' budgets isn't going to be near sufficient to suddenly transform the shrinking unions into mean organizing machines. Labor's organizing problems are much too big to be fixed by a few more dollars. And the loss of the AFL-CIO's health and safety department (along with other services that the nation's central labor body plays is a high price to pay for a negligible payoff.

....in my humble opinion.

Posted by Jordan Barab at March 10, 2005 11:25 PM