Leaders of the 13-million-member AFL-CIO today adopted a blueprint for reinvigorating organized labor, including more mergers of its 96 unions, new recruitment methods, better use of the media, and new cooperative and confrontational tactics for dealing with employers.
"This report offers guidelines to help the labor movement fulfill its historic mission in this new, complex and challenging era," AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said after the document was approved by the federation's executive council.
The report is the result of an unusual two-year study of labor's future, undertaken at a time when organized labor has suffered sharp declines in membership and bargaining clout. It concludes that "the seeds of a resurgence" for labor lie in undertaking new strategies and reactivating old ones.
The report acknowledges that "unions find themselves behind the pace of change" in American society. But it says current "prophesies of doom and despair" are similar to those of the 1920s and 1930s, when unions were considered to be dying but rebounded by altering strategies to fit the times.
The AFL-CIO said it endorses cooperative approaches with employers, such as "quality of work-life" programs, but said those approaches must be coupled with "true equality" in decision-making between workers and managers.
The changes -- recommended by a 25-member top-level AFL-CIO study committee -- in most cases would have to be approved by individual unions.
The recommendations result from public opinion surveys about unions by pollsters Louis Harris and Peter D. Hart, and from reports commissioned by the AFL-CIO from labor experts at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Xerox Corp. and other institutions.
The recommendations include:
*Actively promoting mergers to improve the clout of individual unions, and adopting new guidelines for mergers. (The AFL-CIO announced today the tentative merger of the 241,000-member Paperworkers, and the 124,000-member Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers into the United Paperworkers, Energy and Chemical Workers.) Establishing new categories of union membership at nonunion work places. By offering benefits such as supplemental medical or life insurance, job-training assistance or other inducements, unions could set up low-cost membership to "introduce nonunion workers to the benefits provided by union representation." Setting up mechanisms to stop costly and "wasteful" battles between unions competing to organize the same group of workers. Experimenting with new forms of collective bargaining. Workers often do not want traditional "adversarial" bargaining and formal employment contracts, the report said. Unions instead could provide "advocacy for individuals" and could "negotiate minimum guarantees that will serve as a floor for individual bargaining." Such approaches are now used by unions representing musicians and actors. Expanding union use of electronic media to combat the "near invisibility" of unions on television. The AFL-CIO spends $3 million yearly on television advertising and production, and both the federation and its unions must expand the effort, the report said. Trying new approaches to organizing. Several government-employe unions began as professional "associations" for workers who originally were not allowed to unionize. The Service Employees union also has formed associations of women office workers who initially were reluctant to unionize. The report recommends that union organizers initially target "particular issues" in work places to win support for unionization. Promoting the use of so-called "corporate campaigns" employing new methods of pressuring recalcitrant employers. Such efforts include withdrawals of union pension funds, and vigorously publicizing corporate wrongdoing.
"It is a historic blueprint" for change, said Glenn Watts, head of the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America.
William Winpisinger, president of the 700,000-member International Association of Machinists, said that the report was "a realistic self-appraisal" but that ideas about new forms of membership were "tinkering . . . . Our union constitution represents 100 years of trial and error, and you have to have a damn good reason to change."