AFL-CIO Tries to Adapt to Smaller Size

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

At its national gathering in Chicago, the AFL-CIO tries to adjust to the desertion of two of its largest members: the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union. Robert Siegel talks with Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer for the AFL-CIO.


Yesterday we heard from Andrew Stern, one of the breakaway union leaders, today an officer of the AFL-CIO. Richard Trumka is secretary treasurer of the labor federation and former president of the United Mine Workers.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. RICHARD TRUMKA (Secretary Treasurer, AFL-CIO): Thank you, Robert. Thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: It looks like the unions that are leaving the AFL-CIO will cause the federation a drop in dues of about $20 million, is my estimate, about a sixth of your budget. How will that affect the AFL-CIO?

Mr. TRUMKA: Well, first of all, it's not quite $20 million. It's about $18 million, but obviously that's not a good thing to happen. We've said all along that any tenders to split workers--every last worker, every last man, woman and child in America that depends on the labor movement to protect their pensions, to protect their health care, to protect their way of life is going to be hurt, and that's what's happening now.

SIEGEL: But do you intend to make up the difference through increased dues from the member unions or will it all be through budget cuts in the federation?

Mr. TRUMKA: No, we are--we do have a meeting of the Executive Council. The Executive Council understands that in order to have a strong labor movement, you have to have a strong AFL-CIO. We'll be dealing with those finances and all options will be on the table. But we're not looking to go backwards. We're looking to go forward. So we're going to continue to focus on building a better future for America's workers, and that's what this Executive Council and every one of the 800 delegates here is determined to do.

SIEGEL: You say that there has to be a strong AFL-CIO for the strength of--I should--in the interest of full disclosure, I should say, I, like most of the people that are heard here on this network, I am a member of an AFL-CIO member union. But it seems as though it's unavoidable that the AFL-CIO has been weakened by what happened yesterday. True or false?

Mr. TRUMKA: Well, I have to say that that's true. Not only has the AFL-CIO been weakened, every American worker--man, woman and child--has been weakened. We've said this all along. For almost a year we've tried to work through the differences with the unions that have decided to disaffiliate and not go through the democratic process of coming here and debating their issues but rather leaving the playing field. And so everybody will be weakened. We've said that all along. There's no way around that.

SIEGEL: But when you say you can make up the money in other ways, does that mean that everyone who is a member of a member union can expect an increase in dues shortly to maintain the privilege of membership?

Mr. TRUMKA: We are going to have a special meeting to deal with that very thing. We'll have a resolution coming out of this convention that will say that we're determined to do two things. One, make sure that our central labor councils and state feds remain strong because they're our delivery system. Our proposal intends to rebuild the labor movement from the grass roots up. Their proposal intends to build the labor movement from the top down. We think that you can't build the labor movement from the top down. You build it from the bottom up. So the first thing we'll do is make sure that we keep our central labor councils strong, our state feds strong.

The next thing is to make sure each federation has the resources to be able to do two things: to help in organizing our affiliates and, two, be able to mobilize full-time grass roots permanently that will take away the policies that are actually killing America and killing the American middle class.

Look, we lost 3.3 million manufacturing jobs in the last five years. You can't organize your way out of that alone. So you have to do two fights. Contrary to what they say, you have to organize faster, but you also have to take on those policy fights.

SIEGEL: You're saying that organized labor has to be involved in the political process so that it can favor the election of people who will favor policies that are good for labor union members. They're saying, take that money out of that and put it into more organizing efforts.

Mr. TRUMKA: Well, first of all, none of the money that we propose to spend on mobilizing is going to go to politicians. All of our money is going to go to educating our members, mobilizing them so they can do outreach into community. You cannot just organize your way out of that. Everybody recognizes it. Even some of them recognize it and will say it off the record when they're not talking for public posture. This is about the lives of America's working people. They're under assault as they've never been under assault in the last 80 years, and we owe it to them to be strong and united and to come up with something that will protect them.

SIEGEL: Mr. Trumka, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. TRUMKA: Thanks a lot, Robert.

SIEGEL: Richard Trumka is secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. He spoke to us from Chicago.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from