Richard Trumka wants a way out.
The AFL-CIO president, a former Western Pennsylvania coal miner, is trapped between decades of dwindling union membership and a globalized, mobile economy hostile to traditional organizing tactics. For 30 years, unions could not stop the bleeding.
Trumka wants to try something different.
The federation adopted a resolution at its convention last week that could give liberal groups a say in AFL-CIO policies, and invites all workers — not just union members — to join.
Trumka and his allies say the shrunken labor movement is too small to achieve its goals and needs to join with like-minded groups.
Some member unions are resisting, saying such alliances would undercut their ability to represent the workers who pay them.
“We’re in a crisis right now and none of us are big enough to change that crisis. None of us are big enough to change the economy and make it work for everybody. It takes all progressive voices working together,” Trumka said at the start of the Sept. 8-11 convention in Los Angeles. He did not respond to a request for an interview.
The boldness of Trumka’s gambit — trading some control of the federation for an amplified voice — underscores the threat to his organization, labor experts say. It’s similar to how companies react when their main product isn’t selling, said Cynthia Fukami, management professor at the University of Denver.
“Say you were McDonald’s and people stopped buying your hamburgers. What would you do? You’d come up with a different product,” Fukami said. “This is a bold move by the AFL-CIO. Bold moves sometimes work and sometimes don’t.”