The nation’s largest labor federation has voted to raise membership fees for the first time in nearly two decades, seeking to generate an extra $10 million a year to fund a sprawling new organizing effort and capitalize on a wave of workers at big-name companies seeking to organize.
The AFL-CIO executive board voted this week to raise per-capita membership fees by 5 cents per member each month, federation spokesman Steve Smith said. The first 5-cent increase will take effect in January with a second increase to phase in later. The increases will create a new pool of cash to pay for President
It’s the first time in 17 years the labor federation has raised membership fees levied for each of the 58 affiliated unions representing more than 12 million workers. The investment represents a coordinated attempt by organized labor to seize the spirit of worker unrest in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with employees at
A new arm of the AFL-CIO—called the Center for Transformational Organizing—will use the money to put more organizers on the ground, funnel cash to member unions waging difficult organizing campaigns, and support research and collaboration among unions, though exact appropriations haven’t been decided yet, Smith said.
The organizing efforts at Amazon and Starbucks were headed by non-AFL-CIO unions, raising questions in activist circles about the federation’s ability to attract new members. The first Apple store to unionize, in Towson, Md., did so with the International Association of Machinists, an AFL-CIO member.
“We’re making an unparalleled investment dedicated exclusively to organizing to build power for America’s workers seizing this unprecedented moment,” Shuler said in a statement Friday. Through the new center, the federation “will facilitate cross-movement organizing on a massive scale,” she added.
Unite Here President D. Taylor, a member of the AFL-CIO executive council, said in a statement that the labor movement needs to capitalize on this “watershed point in history.”
“Workers are fed up with extreme inequality and exploitation and ready to fight to improve their conditions,” Taylor said. “Now is the time to throw everything at the wall and take bold risks.”
Shuler’s 1 million workers pledge would grow the US union population by 7%—a tall order considering the rate of union membership stood at a record low of 10.3% of all US companies in 2019. After winning the federation’s presidential election in June, Shuler said she was already working behind the scenes to make sure member unions were on board with the plan. “We don’t want to just announce something and not have it be real,” she told reporters at the time.
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