What can Pennsylvania employers expect? Featured

8:00pm EDT September 27, 2005
The AFL-CIO took a broadside hit at its historic 50th anniversary convention last July when the Service Employees (SEIU), Teamsters and Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) unions pulled out of the AFL-CIO altogether, and three other AFL-CIO members including UNITE-HERE, the Laborers and the Farm Workers unions refused to participate in the convention.

These rebel unions have formed the core of a new group called the Change To Win Coalition, which also includes the Carpenters union that left the AFL-CIO a few years earlier. The Coalition’s stated goal is to spend significant amounts of their members’ dues on organizing at the grassroots level, rather than using it to fill the coffers of Democratic politicians who have time and again failed to deliver the goods to their loyal union constituency.

Big changes
The house of labor has never been more divided, with union membership in the private sector totaling only about 8 percent of the total work force, down from 35 percent in 1955. At the same time, the AFL-CIO’s political influence on the national level is waning after having wasted significant dollars and time on Democratic campaigns, only to watch their candidates lose at virtually every turn.

Recent evidence of the eroding union movement can be found at Northwest Airlines, where 4,400 mechanics were replaced last week without much more than a whimper from their union brothers.

Local effects
This dissention among union brethren most likely presents a mixed bag for Pennsylvania employers. On one hand, local AFL-CIO federations, such as the Allegheny County Labor Council, will have less money available to move their political labor agendas forward, and it will take time regroup in terms of organizing efforts.

On the other hand, organizers for the Teamsters, SEIU and UFCW, which utilize the most aggressive organizing tactics in Pennsylvania, will have significant new monies to take their message out to the street to nonunion employers, as well as to raid AFL-CIO represented companies of union members who have been dissatisfied with the way that their AFL-CIO affiliated unions have been doing business.

The SEIU, in particular, has proven itself to be formidable in Pennsylvania, having managed to organize a significant portion of the state’s health care workers, as well as janitorial workers across the state. Now that the shackles are off, the SEIU and other coalition unions are free to wade into organizing other industries, including businesses with white-collar workers, that were previously off limits, given the constraints placed upon them by the AFL-CIO.

Nevertheless, don’t count out the AFL-CIO member unions. The AFL-CIO still controls two-thirds of the union membership across the United States, and still has the ear of powerful national and local politicians. Should the AFL-CIO decide to take on the fight for union members, employers could very well see a resurgence in union activity, turning a once-complacent union movement into a roaring tiger.

All things considered, employers in Pennsylvania should be aware that the changes in the labor movement increases the probability that they will encounter unionization efforts.

Employers would be well served to perform a comprehensive review of their labor and employment policies and practices to make sure that they are up-to-date and conform to sound employee relations standards, analyze their wages and benefits to ensure they are competitive in the marketplace, have senior level managers take the time to go out and meet directly with employees to gain a better understanding of what their problems and concerns are in the workplace, and become knowledgeable about the law that regulates labor relations.

George Basara is a shareholder with Buchanan Ingersoll and serves as chair of the firm’s Labor and Employment Group. Reach him at 412 562-1636 or basarag@bipc.com.