U.S. labor leader wants to organize 1 million new workers over next decade

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The head of the AFL-CIO said Thursday the 12.5-million-member worker federation has set a goal of organizing 1 million new workers over the next decade, as she called for changes to U.S. labor laws to make it easier to unionize.

“This is the moment because we have so much momentum,” President Elizabeth Shuler told reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor Thursday ahead of the U.S. Labor Day holiday, citing a number of organizing victories. “We have the most pro-union administration in history and we have working people standing up taking risks.”

In 2021, U.S. union membership declined to 14 million workers, covering 10.3% of the workforce — down from 10.8% in 2020 — and down from about 20% of the U.S. workforce in 1983.

“We will bring together the best organizers and researchers and technologists into our organizing strategies, and go to work,” Shuler said.

Shuler criticized the Federal Reserve Board for continuing to hike interest rates, saying Fed chair Jerome Powell had made a “big mistake” by telling working people they had no choice but to endure the hardship this would cause.

Shuler said the AFL-CIO was supporting efforts to organize new battery assembly plants. The United Auto Workers union is pushing hard to represent workers at joint venture plants — especially those co-owned by Detroit’s Big Three automakers that have historically had unionized assembly workers.

Unions want to “make the clean energy industry like the auto industry, right, which started out as dangerous jobs with low pay and horrible safety conditions” before jobs were unionized starting in the 1930s, she said.

Many of those battery plants are being built in southern states that are typically less union-friendly, some with “right-to-work” rules that can hamper organizing efforts.

“We as a labor movement are investing more in the south,” she said. “Right-to-work states are tough.”

Shuler noted that a Gallup poll released this week found 71% percent of Americans now approve of labor unions, the highest Gallup has recorded on this measure since 1965.

“People are angry at what they’re seeing with these record profits coming out of the pandemic and companies making billions of dollars and then not being able to afford very modest wage increases for their workers,” Shuler said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Graff)


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