NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Have Another On Me, Mate -- And Sign This Card"

May 30, 1997

With the percentage of workers belonging to unions nationwide falling from 35 percent in the 1950s to 14.5 percent now, leaders of the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are devoting more attention and resources to recruiting more members.

The unspoken motto of the drive is "Organize or Wither."

  • AFL-CIO President John Sweeney's goal is to have union membership grow by 3 percent a year.
  • He is pleading with many unions to spend 30 percent of their budget on recruiting -- a major departure from the 2 percent to 3 percent usually budgeted.
  • One strategy is to organize every company in an industry, rather than just a few companies -- a tactic which backfired when nonunion companies were able to underbid unionized operations and win contracts.
  • Instead of standing at factory gates to hand out fliers, organizers are increasingly visiting Polish and Hispanic immigrant workers at home so they can have long recruitment talks -- without management knowing.

In another innovation, unions are increasingly letting workers at a target company spearhead recruiting drives instead of "parachuting in" outside organizers who hardly know the territory.

Yet another tactic involves holding recruitment meetings at popular bars on Saturday nights -- where everybody can get together in a good mood.

Source: Steve Greenhouse, "Unions, Facing Decline, Increase their Recruiting," New York Times, May 30, 1997.


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