AFL-CIO Targets Young Workers, Vows Renewed EFCA Effort

By Staff Report

Sep. 1, 2009

Recruiting young members and enlisting them in legislative advocacy is a top priority for the AFL-CIO, which released a study Tuesday, September 1, showing that workers under 35 have been hit particularly hard by the recession.

The survey of 1,156 people indicates 31 percent of young employees lack health insurance, a 7 percent increase from 1999, the last time that the AFL-CIO conducted a similar poll. Less than half—47 percent—have employer-sponsored retirement plans, a decrease of 6 percent.

More than half of the young workers in the survey earn less than $30,000, and 24 percent said they can’t pay their bills—making them reluctant to buy homes and start families.

“The findings reveal a lost decade for young workers in America,” the report states. “Not only have young workers lost financial ground over the past 10 years; they have also lost some of their optimism.”

The AFL-CIO will try to convince them that unionization would improve their lives. Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO secretary treasurer, will present a plan to recruit young workers at the organization’s annual conference in Pittsburgh from September 13-17.

“We’re reaching out to young people in an unprecedented way,” said Trumka, who is likely to be elected AFL-CIO president at the Pittsburgh meeting.

Workers under 35 currently constitute 25 percent of AFL-CIO membership. Bringing younger workers into the union movement is an imperative for its survival. About 7 percent of private sector is unionized.

In remarks at the Center for American Progress in Washington on Monday, August 31, Trumka said that unions must demonstrate their relevance to young workers by addressing issues such as telecommuting and portable health care and protecting contingent employees.

“We can’t ask Millennials to change the way they earn their living to meet our model for unionism,” Trumka said. “We have to change our approach to unionism to meet their needs.”

The AFL-CIO is depending on the political engagement young people showed in the 2008 election to carry over into battles for legislative priorities like the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize.

Unions argue the measure would boost wages and benefits by expanding collective bargaining. Opponents say that EFCA would effectively eliminate secret-ballot union elections and significantly raise labor costs.

The bill is stalled in the Senate, where negotiations are under way to reach a compromise that will attract more moderate Democrats. The AFL-CIO will intensify its grass-roots and Capitol Hill lobbying after Labor Day.

“We are more determined than ever to pass labor law reform this year,” said Arlene Holt Baker, AFL-CIO executive vice president. “We are confident that [wavering Democrats] will get there and that they will vote to support workers being able to freely join unions.”

The business community vows to maintain its fierce anti-EFCA campaign.

“We are going to aggressively engage on this issue as Congress returns to urge opposition to this job-killing legislation in any form,” said Keith Smith, director of employment and labor policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

—Mark Schoeff Jr. 

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