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AFL-CIO president considers radical step to expand membership

Sept. 7, 2013 at 2:44 PM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- The president of the AFL-CIO said the organization, traditionally made up of unionized workers, needs to open its doors to accept non-union members.

"The crisis for labor has deepened. It's at a point where we really must do something differently. We really have to experiment," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told The New York Times in an interview.

The crisis for labor includes dwindling membership, setbacks in contract negotiations and anti-union legislation passed in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, traditional strongholds for unions where Republicans gained control of governorships and legislatures in the 2010 elections, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Trumka said the AFL-CIO should consider allowing other progressive groups, such as the Sierra Club or the NAACP, to become formal partners of the organization, the Times reported.

"It's pretty obvious to all of our progressive partners that none of us can do it alone. If we're going to change the political and economic environment, it's going to take us all working together," Trumka said.

Fervent union members could view such ideas as heresy, the Times said.

"Unions are thrashing around looking for answers. It just might prove successful from the very fact that there is great desperation to it. There's a sense that this is make-or-break time for labor. Either major things are done, or it will be too late to resuscitate the labor movement," said Gary Chaison, an industrial relations professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

"We're trying a lot of things, and some of them will work and some of them won't. We'll try to amplify those that work, and we'll jettison what doesn't work," Trumka said.

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