With union membership dwindling nationally, labor groups have resorted to launching membership “raids” designed to poach members from rival unions.
Just 11.3 percent of U.S. workers now belong to a union, the lowest level in almost a century. The bleak numbers have led labor bosses to roll out expensive and contentious ad campaigns that seek to cannibalize the dues-paying memberships of competing unions.
Experts say the raids come at a public relations cost.
“Union rivalry creates bad public relations and shows the seamy underside of the union movement,” Clark University Professor of Industrial Relations Gary Chaison told the Los Angeles Times. “Fights between unions seem to contradict the idea of solidarity between all unions and between all workers.”
The Teamsters union launched a raid against the International Assn. of Machinists for their US Airways mechanics, and the National Union of Healthcare Workers made a play for California’s 45,000 healthcare workers who belong to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The desperation over maintaining union memberships has sparked bad blood and even lawsuits. “A lawsuit filed by the nurses union against the SEIU, for example, accuses the union of ‘acts of assault, battery, intimidation, threat and coercion.’ The Transport Workers Union has also filed petitions accusing the Teamsters of forging signatures,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
“We have seen these unions launch more raids and break more peace,” says Center for Union Facts Managing Director J. Justin Wilson. “It seems that the traditional breakdown is falling apart.”
In a rare admission of failure, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently conceded that the labor movement’s dwindling influence and membership numbers are taking a toll.
“To be blunt, our basic system of workplace representation is failing to meet the needs of America’s workers by every critical measure,” said Trumka.