Forging new connections for the labor movement was the topic of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler's afternoon address. "Politicians love to scapegoat unions as the source of budget problems," she said. "And there are many antiunion groups."
She told of meeting a young man who confused the AFL-CIO with the insurance company AFLAC after learning where she worked. "I knew at that moment we had a lot of work to do." Two serious challenges face unions, Shuler said. One is declining membership, which erodes their ability to bargain good contracts and elect pro-worker lawmakers. Another challenge, she said, is that fewer people know how unions benefit their communities.
"We need to create new models of membership to allow those without union representation in the workplace the chance to become part of the union movement," she said.
An example is the AFL-CIO's Working America program, a community- affiliate group that involves 3 million non-unionized workers in the labor movement. Reaching out to non-traditional workers, such as taxi drivers, nannies and fast food employees, is also important.
"We need to open our doors wider to people who are open to unionism," said Shuler.
Getting the good news out is vital, she said. "We need to reintroduce unions to the public on the basis of shared values like fairness, equality and democracy."
Shuler encouraged members to share stories of the good, but unseen, work they do. The AFL-CIO is highlighting the positive work of union members through OurValues@Work, a new feature at www.aflcio.org.
"We need your thoughts, inspirations, concerns and ideas," she said. "America needs a strong labor movement; please help us make that our future."