Yesterday the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) announced its withdrawal from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to focus on recruiting more members.
The action follows decades of declining union membership as the number of unionized wage and salary workers has fallen from 20% in 1983 to 12.5% in 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and unionstats.com.
“We submitted, in good faith, proposals to dramatically change the direction of the AFL-CIO to stem the losses that we have endured over the past decade,” said Teamsters president James P. Hoffa in a statement. “In our view, we must have more union members in order to change the political climate that is undermining workers rights in this country. The AFL-CIO has chosen the opposite approach.”
But in terms of the impact this move might have on Teamsters efforts to organize the trucking industry remains uncertain. Michael H. Belzer, associate professor for Wayne State University and author of Sweatshops on Wheels: Winners and Losers in Trucking Deregulation believes that the Teamsters break-off is likely to hurt union organization efforts.
“[The Teamsters] haven’t been highly effective at organizing drivers in the trucking industry for various reasons— especially from problems that stem from the law,” Belzer told Fleet Owner. “The law at this point is quite hostile to organizing.
“The National Labor Relations Board, especially in the Republican years, has acted as a management [favoring] arm as opposed to being neutral,” continued Belzer. “This can’t be changed by breaking off from AFL-CIO. If you do something that doesn’t address the underlying problem and jump to a solution, you really haven’t solved anything.
“To pull out of AFL-CIO because they haven’t done any organizing seems to be circular reasoning,” Belzer added. “The AFL-CIO fulfills the centralized lobbying and political work, but they aren’t responsible for fulfilling the function of doing the organizing itself. The belief may be that with the money they save from AFL-CIO dues they could spend more money on organizing. But if [Teamsters] devotes too much money to organizing there’s less money to service existing members— that’s a balance all unions have to make.”
According to Satish Jindel, president of transportation consulting firm S.J. Consulting, it is unlikely that the Teamsters move will affect trucking organizing efforts.
“[The Teamsters action] by itself won’t change what they do in terms of union efforts,” Jindel told Fleet Owner. “To some extent it could affect the amount of financial resources they could draw on for union activity. In the future, they are less likely to get support from AFL-CIO.”