AFL-CIO Splintering? Not in Rhode Island
I noted with interest the national splintering of the AFL-CIO and wondered what effect it would have on this, one of the most “labor-friendly” states in the union. According to this report on this subject in today’s ProJo, RI ranks 1st in New England and 9th nationally in percent of union employees in the workforce. Let’s consider these figures (from the ProJo story)
About 17 percent of Rhode Island’s work force of 494,000 was under union contracts in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The national average is 12.5 percent. . .
. . . almost all public employees in the state are covered by union contracts; state and municipal employees now make up about half the state’s unionized members. There is little room for union growth among public employees. [Unless, of course, you unionize a new group, like say home day care workers, say? –MAC]
Doing the math, that means 8-9% (or around 40,000 people) of our state work force is composed of unionized government employees. As we all know, this is a substantial political bloc.
Apparently, labor leaders, such as the AFL-CIO’s Rhode Island leader George Nee, are all a bit in the dark, though there is a desire to maintain strong ties. That’s understandable. This very unity of various organized labor groups has been one of the key factors in making them the strongest single political player in our state.
A major goal, said Nee, is keeping together WorkingRI, a labor-financed lobbying coalition that includes some unions not currently in the AFL-CIO. The coalition lobbies at the State House on issues that affect both union and nonunion workers.
Among the topics WorkingRI advances are organizing state daycare workers, increasing the state minimum wage, and pushing for better workplace safety.
Rhode Island unions helped build the state Democratic Party, and union leaders are still influential in the party; Frank Montanaro, AFL-CIO state president, is also Rhode Island’s Democratic national committeeman.
Democratic party leaders are confident that the division on the national level will not spill over into a weakening of labor support for local Democrats running for office, said William Lynch, the state Democratic chairman.
The leaders of the dissident unions say that the AFL-CIO, under president John Sweeney, spent too much money on trying to elect Democrats to Congress and the presidency, and not enough on organizing campaigns to sign up more workers.
Nonetheless, it would appear that Sweeney’s tactic is what works here in Rhode Island and nothing is going to change any time soon.