AFL-CIO Faces a Strike of Its Own

(Bloomberg) -- Locked in a bitter internal battle over how to withstand an onslaught of attacks from anti-union groups and the Trump administration, the largest U.S. union federation could soon face a walkout by its own employees.

On Tuesday, AFL-CIO employees represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), unanimously voted to authorize a strike. The vote by union members, including about 50 janitors, secretaries and accountants for the AFL-CIO, empowers union leaders to set a date for a walkout. Beyond the significance of labor unrest at one of America’s most prominent labor groups, if the union members do strike, the Communications Workers of America’s Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild expects that most of its roughly 125 members at the AFL-CIO will also refuse to work, according to its executive director, Cet Parks.

“We are involved in negotiations with our administrative staff and, while we hope to avoid any work stoppages, we fully respect their rights through this process,” AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein said in an email late Monday. “However, we will not negotiate publicly and the critical work of the labor movement continues uninterrupted.” The federation didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry Tuesday as to the results of the strike vote.

OPEIU said the vote followed AFL-CIO management’s decision to impose a new contract that employees had unanimously rejected. Its terms included reduced sick leave, no wage increases and weakened layoff protections. “If a company tried to force a contract like this, we believe that the AFL-CIO would deplore the company as anti-union,” the union said in a recent statement on its website. “If we agree to this contract, we are signaling to every other union out there that they should accept those terms from their employers.”

The AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 unions with a combined membership of 12.5 million, has been struggling to sustain organized labor’s clout after decades of declining membership and amid a wave of recent attacks. Last year, the AFL-CIO dismissed several dozen staff members, a move President Richard Trumka said was part of a restructuring plan to allow the group to focus on core priorities. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling banning mandatory public sector union fees, a potential financial blow that Trumka said the organization was prepared to address.

The consensus among labor leaders, Trumka said in 2017, was that “unless we really change and focus on our priorities, we’re not going to be able to ultimately drill our way back.”

OPEIU declined to comment on how soon it could call a strike, but it has said it’s planning to mount lunchtime marches outside the AFL-CIO’s Washington headquarters on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

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