The country’s dwindling labor federations and defenders of America’s workers are taking a page from corporate America: Firing some of their own employees.
The AFL-CIO confirmed Monday that it will dismiss “several dozens” of the roughly 400 staff and furlough others working at its headquarters just north of Lafayette Square in Washington. Earlier, in December, the separate Service Employees International Union warned employees that it “must plan for a 30 percent reduction” in its budget by Jan. 1, 2018.
In addition to eroding membership, the labor federation faces government and court challenges to its ability to collect dues and new “right-to-work” laws in states that make organizing difficult.
AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein on Monday blamed the job cuts on “the concerted attacks of corporate America on our rights” and said also that “it’s the changing economy and changing workforce and we’re having to react to that.”
The dismissals were reported earlier by Bloomberg News.
The union federation still has 55 unions that represent 12.5 million workers from auto workers to school teachers. SEIU represents about 2 million workers. But the portion of workers who belong to a union has slid to barely half of what it was in 1983.
The AFL-CIO layoffs could make room for the federation to rent out space in its headquarters, which already has 22 tenants.
“Through all this the AFL CIO has been debating about how the union can be effective for our affiliates and our people,” Goldstein said. “We have to come up with ways to reimagine and realign the federation’s work so that we can double down on the economic agenda and the shared priorities across the movement.”
But in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in November, there have been conflicting views about what is the best use of the labor movement’s limited resources, with a struggle over how much to devote to organizing workers and how much to devote to organizing voters.