- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney took the cause of organized labor to the Washington National Cathedral yesterday as churches in most states opened their sanctuaries to pro-union messages.
"This year, more than 800 congregations in 140 cities have invited union leaders and workers into their pulpits," Mr. Sweeney said in the towering stone sanctuary.
Begun in 1996, the effort to reach Americans through their churches is part of organized labor's appeal for support at a time of economic uncertainty and increasing public sympathy toward unions.
"There is a sharply rising belief among workers that neither their employers nor the government can be trusted to protect their workplace rights, that a shift in power from labor to management has taken place," Mr. Sweeney said.
Amid an economy he characterized as "struggling, but strong," Mr. Sweeney said organized labor's top priority is immigration reform.
He said undocumented workers must be protected from exploitation by employers, adding that American workers also should not suffer from the influx of cheap labor.
The campaign to strengthen American unions by embracing immigrant labor especially among the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, Service Employees International Union and United Farm Workers heats up this week as President Bush meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox.
Mr. Sweeney condemned multinational corporations for what he called "scavenging the world for cheaper and cheaper sources of labor, pitting workers against workers."
He urged a united protest to protect worker rights when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meet here at the end of September.
"Tens of thousands of union members and students will join people of faith, as well as environmental, women's and civil rights activists in a series of peaceful mass protests," he said.
Mr. Sweeney's appeal for greater activism comes at a pivotal moment for organized labor. The number of American workers in unions declined to 13.5 percent last year, according to the Labor Department. Union officials blame the shrinking membership, the lowest in six decades, on job growth in nonunion businesses and the decline of heavily unionized industries.
Yet two in three Americans have grown more sympathetic to unions in labor-business disputes, according to an Associated Press poll released last week.
"If people are uncertain, that is when unions get the best opportunity to make their presence felt," said Lawrence Lorber, deputy assistant labor secretary under President Ford.
Some union leaders also see an opportunity in working with the Republican administration, despite organized labor's historic ties with the Democratic Party.
They have backed Mr. Bush's plan to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. A week ago, when Mr. Bush was the first president in 30 years to visit a Pennsylvania steel mill, he was welcomed by the United Steelworkers of America.
Today, Mr. Bush plans to talk to carpenters in Wisconsin and attend a Teamsters picnic in Michigan.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide