|ONLINE VERSION||MAY 2000|
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By Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO
Collective bargaining is one of the most important economic mechanisms for sharing prosperity in our economy. The AFL-CIO Strategic Approaches Committee, which I chair, has been looking at the current state of collective bargaining and we are worried. Collective bargaining is under attack as never before in our history.
Many employers embrace their bargaining relationships as a strategic competitive resource and as a guarantee of quality in delivering services or products. But many more have abandoned their commitment to bargain in good faith. Even employers that respect their existing bargaining relationships often resist new organizing efforts, including campaigns by unions that have long represented their employees.
The AFL-CIO should and can play a central and proactive role in supporting the collective bargaining efforts of affiliated unions. Individual unions, of course, must formulate their own bargaining and organizing strategies. But all affiliated unions have the responsibility to assist and support each other in individual bargaining efforts.
The Strategic Approaches Committee reached the conclusion that we should expand our mission to help unions respond more effectively to aggressive employers bent on marginalizing or breaking unions. We will take on an expanded role to monitor, analyze and anticipate collective bargaining trends, develop collective bargaining strategies, tactics and language that benefit the entire labor movement and provide a forum for affiliates to discuss collective bargaining issues.
The AFL-CIO also can deliver resources that can be beyond the reach of even the largest unions or that can be organized and delivered effectively through the federation. These resources include coordinating our broad geographical reach, mobilizing the international labor movement, tapping into our political influence at all levels of government and harnessing the positive relations we have established in the business and investment communities.
Unions are using many successful bargaining strategies to defend their wages and benefits. Union strategies vary across occupational groupings, companies, industries and regions.
As unions become more sophisticated, their strategies also become more complex and comprehensive. Unions challenge management authority from the workplace to the boardroom, from individual work sites to entire industries and from local communities to the international economy.
Traditionally, the Strategic Approaches Committee played a reactive role to help affiliates in collective bargaining struggles when assistance was requested. In today's anti-union atmosphere, devising better ways to help unions react in particular bargaining struggles is still necessary, but it is not enough.
Many employers are big and powerful and getting bigger, more powerful, and more aggressive, every day. They are more and more willing to take us on and to engage in all out war with us.
They spend time, energy and money trying to concoct new and more efficient ways to defeat or even destroy us. Many are developing global operations and connections and moving to nonunion areas of the U.S. that make it easier than ever to undermine and escape us.
Bargaining is clearly the responsibility of individual unions and will always remain so. But stopping aggressive employers committed to weaken or destroying unions is a challenge to the entire labor movement.
As part of the expanded mission of the Strategic Approaches Committee, we will focus on two critical goals:
1. Take the best of our experience in planning and executing comprehensive campaigns, to disseminate this experience throughout the labor movement and work with affiliates to fight better and smarter.
2. Develop forums and procedures for exchanging critical bargaining information, strategies and tactics, especially in situations where unions can leverage their combined power against employers.
The key to making our collective bargaining power stronger is to ensure that all affiliates understand that collective bargaining success depends primarily on a well-planned, well-executed comprehensive contract campaign that capitalizes on all possible sources of leverage.
Many unions have developed successful comprehensive contract campaigns. So, it only makes sense for the AFL-CIO to share our collective bargaining knowledge and expertise. Information exchange and coordination of efforts are indispensable to building collective bargaining power. Many unions bargain with the same employer. But not enough exchange important information and coordinate our bargaining strategies and tactics to maximize our strengths.
Until the political climate develops for labor law reform, the labor movement must rely upon ourselves to protect and enhance our collective bargaining rights. Labor has proven our ability throughout history to overcome adversity and hostility, whether from company goons or hostile politicians. We seek to lead employers along the high road of economic development. But we are also prepared to fight for our rights so that all working families have the opportunity to improve their lives through collective bargaining power.
Reprinted from AIL Labor Agenda, March 2000.