Labor Unrest…From Union Employees

Imagine: you are a hard-working custodian who scrubs bathrooms and vacuums hallways for a company you’ve always respected. It’s an honest job, and when the company tells you it values fairness for all workers, you believe them.

You work at the AFL-CIO headquarters, and as a union member yourself, it feels good to know your employer shares your principles.

Then, reality sets in. After railing against employers’ unjust contracts for decades, the AFL-CIO insults you and your co-workers with a contract that nobody would sign. So you strike—against your own union.

This isn’t a fictional anecdote. It happened just last week in Washington, DC.

The custodians’ union, OPEIU Local 2, operates under the AFL-CIO umbrella and authorized last Tuesday’s strike against their own parent organization. OPEIU’s website posted a massive picture of a tombstone reading “The Death of Labor.”

Why is it that the AFL-CIO, who claims to be a pro-worker organization, isn't willing to give its own workers the benefits they fight for every day? Despite advocating for sick leave and pay increases for all other workers, AFL-CIO proposes freezing pay and slashing the sick leave of its own lowest paid employees. After years of playing hardball with employers, they’ve become the very thing they deride.

Teachers’ unions employees are also frustrated. Just this month—in states where teachers’ strikes recently made national headlines—Kentucky Education Association employees filed an unfair labor practice against union managers, while Arizona Education Association employees threaten to strike.

A true pro-worker organization should support their own. More than that, they’d respect all workers’ rights.

Yet when the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision recognized the constitutional right of all government employees to choose whether they would pay non-member fees to a union, AFL-CIO was one of the loudest opponents. The union claimed the justices had “conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people.”

Indeed, after the Janus ruling, which prompted the National Education Association to cut its budget, the NEA staff union warned members they would be “under assault” from union management—the same management who ironically vowed to fight for improved workplaces.

A true champion of workers would support workers’ constitutional rights, protect union election privacy, and treat their own employees with respect.