Workers at AFL-CIO headquarters threaten strike for fair pay

October 12, 2018

The biggest federation of unions in the United States has called on companies this year to raise worker pay amid a flourishing economy. But it seems that the union leaders aren’t protecting those who are closest home—employees at their own headquarters, the Washington Post reported on October 10.

Now, workers at the AFL-CIO say the labor group isn’t practicing what it preaches — and they’re prepared to picket over it. About 50 janitors, drivers, secretaries and accountants at the union’s offices in greater Washington, D.C., all represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), voted on October 9 to authorize a strike if their employer does not meet their demands.

The workers, 66% of whom are older than 50, say the AFL-CIO offered them a new contract in September that included a three-year pay freeze, less reliable hours, cuts to sick leave. and weaker seniority rights.

After they rejected those terms, the AFL-CIO notified them on October 8 that it simply would impose the contract, promising no further negotiations with any employees other than its administrative staff members , the Post reported.

“It’s absolutely hypocritical,” Jessica Maiorca, spokesperson for OPEIU Local 2 in Silver Spring, Maryland, told the newspaper. “How do we expect people to take us seriously when we’re not providing employees the benefits we think our union members need?”

Almost 75% of the AFL-CIO employees considering a walkout have worked there for at least a decade,said Maiorca, while 54% have been at the organization for longer than 15 years.

The union body said it would keep negotiating with its office employees, who make an average salary of $60,000 — higher than typical administrative roles nationwide.

“We are involved in negotiations with our administrative staff and while we hope to avoid any work stoppages, we fully respect their rights through this process,” spokesperson Josh Goldstein said in a statement. “However, we will not negotiate publicly and the critical work of the labor movement continues uninterrupted.”

This isn’t the AFL-CIO’s first tangle with its workers, the Post said. Roughly 300 employees at its headquarters refused to cross a picket line in 1986 after 12 food services workers there went on strike for higher wages.

Analysts say a high-profile walkout could deal a public relations blow to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who recently accused “greedy corporations” of hogging their corporate tax-cut windfalls.

Indeed, working while his own employees are on strike — including the people who drive him and clean his office, according to the OPEIU — would be seen as “taboo,” said Joseph Slater, a labor professor at the University of Toledo College of Law.

“It’s embarrassing for people in leadership to be seen doing that,” he said.

But the AFL-CIO and the labor movement, in general, he added, is navigating rough financial straits.

Union membership nationwide has declined in recent decades, and the Supreme Court decision in June to free public workers from paying mandatory dues to unions that represent them (Janus v. AFSCME) is expected to further strangle funding. About 33% of the AFL-CIO’s members work in the public sector.

“They are going to have a lot less money coming in,” Slater told the news outlet.

An estimated 14.8 million workers belonged to unions in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 17.7 million in 1983. The AFL-CIO is one of the most visible names in the labor movement with more than 55 affiliated unions and 12 million international members, including factory workers, bakers, teachers, roofers, police officers ,and flight attendants.

The workers have not set a date for a strike.

Research contact: danielle.paquette@washpost.com

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