Ohio AFL-CIO realigns amid declining numbers and union defections

Published: Apr. 14, 2006 at 6:08 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2006 at 6:11 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND - The politically powerful AFL-CIO, hit by declining membership rolls and defections by member unions, has streamlined its Ohio structure to consolidate 36 central labor councils into 22.

It was the first major restructuring in nearly a half century for the federation in Ohio.

Union leaders endorsed the realignment last Saturday in Columbus. Ohio was the ninth state to complete the restructuring, dubbed "New Alliance."

The realignment was approved by an 86 percent majority at a meeting of more than 600 union leaders from across Ohio and representing more than 30 international unions.

"Workers in Ohio need a union movement that is as powerful and united as possible," William A. Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said in announcing the restructuring.

"For the first time, our national, state and local labor bodies will be working out of the same playbook to achieve the same goals."

The federation said the restructuring would mean more efficient use of resources and bolster smaller councils with additional resources. The realignment includes a statewide strategic planning committee.

The consolidated central labor councils will work under one of six regional Area Labor Federations, each of which will have a full-time staff position to direct year-round mobilization programs.

"There's a problem of losing members through plant closings and bankruptcies," Burga said Thursday. "The other problem is, we needed to take a look at how we can communicate better with our members and mobilize them and have more focus on political, legislative and organizing than we've had."

He said the national AFL-CIO focus on restructuring came before last summer's union defections which cost the Ohio AFL-CIO about 55,000 members, reducing its ranks to 650,000.

The realignment in Ohio comes as the AFL-CIO prepares for its first election cycle since about a half-dozen unions split from the federation, complaining that it emphasized political campaigns over membership drives.

The AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of more than 50 unions representing 9 million workers, lost more than a fourth of its members in a rift that began last July. The SEIU, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE HERE, United Farm Workers and Carpenters left to join the Change to Win Coalition.

Union households made up a fourth of U.S. voters in the 2004 election. About six in 10 union households voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections.

Long-declining union membership leveled off last year at 12.5 percent of the nation's work force. Union membership was about a third of the work force a half century ago and was 20 percent in 1983.

Union groups in New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., have adopted similar "New Alliance" restructuring.

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