Union membership in the U.S. continues to dwindle, with the percentage of American workers in unions dropping to 11%, and less than 7% in the private sector. The decline in organized labor continues in spite of a very pro-union administration in power, and a favorable NLRB. Apparently, the AFL-CIO has now concluded that it cannot achieve gains in organized labor alone, so its current push is to expand relationships with other groups. These other groups include large national organizations, as well as more local worker groups.

From a national level, the AFL-CIO during September passed a resolution to try to bring large national groups that might have a common cause with it under some type of umbrella. Some of the groups the AFL-CIO hopes to include in this type umbrella organization include the National Organization for Women, the Blue Green Alliance, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, and the Sierra Club. These optimistic plans were scaled back somewhat in the recent resolution, however, because the voting members did not want to give such outside groups full membership and participation in the governing power. The plan is apparently to address each outside group on a case-by-case basis, with the type of coalition to vary from one organization to the other.

A second but related AFL-CIO development relates to their increasing efforts to get involved with local community groups, often called worker centers. The idea is to provide services or help or in some cases grants to these worker centers, working closely with them so that they can encourage labor organization contacts with traditional unions. Many such worker centers relate to ethnic groups or particular occupations. Examples include the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, claiming 17,000 members and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, claiming 10,000 members. Last year, one international union gave $2.5 million to the New York Communities for Change, which this year conducted a series of 1-day strikes involving more than 2,000 fast-food workers in a number of cities. These workers are asking for $15 an hour and a speedy process to join a union.

Labor leaders say unions must create new models to reverse their steady decline. The actions in places such as New York, Chicago, and Detroit involve fast-food workers at McDonald's, Burger King, and other fast-food restaurants, and the worker groups are not considered "labor organizations" under the law, even though they receive support from traditional unions. The idea is that if unions cannot organize through the NLRB, they can seek coalitions through worker centers as a way to show workers how coordinated action can win concessions from employers. The idea is to make such workers more sympathetic to the idea of joining a union later.

Some of these worker centers have more credibility with workers than traditional unions, and offer some advantages due to the fact that the labor laws may not apply to them. Several Republicans in the House of Representatives and a business group known as the Center for Union Facts contend that such worker centers, by not registering as unions, are wrongfully avoiding the laws that govern unions. For example, during July, two House Republicans asked the Labor Department to investigate whether worker centers should be subject to the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which requires unions to submit annual financial reports to the DOL. Some of the worker groups that have been identified include the Koreantown Immigrant Workers Alliance, the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart, Restaurant Opportunity Center United, Working America, and Fast Food Forward. These groups have been identified as "front groups" for organized labor. International unions particularly involved with these groups include the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unite-Here, AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees' International Union.

These efforts also include attention to industries that have not traditionally been subject of union organizing, including domestic workers and taxi drivers. Other such worker groups include day laborers, daycare workers, university graduate students, and others. Unions have been successful in organizing marijuana dealers in states that have legalized the drug for recreational or medical use.

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