- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Two major labor unions plan to merge with larger unions at the end of this month as they struggle to survive in a pro-business political climate.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), the nation’s oldest railroad union, plans to merge with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America.

In addition, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the nation’s largest union of flight attendants, said it would merge with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

The Teamsters and the CWA are among the nation’s most powerful unions.

In both cases, the smaller unions said they had few other options. Their political influence and finances are falling along with their membership.

They blamed President Bush as the leader of what Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, yesterday called an “antiunion, antilabor administration.”

He spoke during a rally on the steps of the Labor Department, joined by about 1,000 union members and sympathizers who want legislation making it easier for workers to organize unions.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, accused Mr. Bush of favoring the big businesses that contribute to his political campaigns.

“Just follow the money,” Mr. Gage said to explain Mr. Bush’s motivations for contracting out government jobs to corporations and planning to privatize Social Security.

The Bush administration says its economic policies are intended to create jobs, whether they are union or nonunion.

“The president has an aggressive agenda to improve the economic security for workers across America,” said Claire Buchan, White House spokeswoman. “We’re reaching out to anyone who wants to advance the president’s agenda for jobs.”

Unions say the Bush administration is unwilling to take action against employers that interfere with collective bargaining.

Union membership has declined steadily since the early 1980s from 20 percent to 13 percent of the American work force.

The Association of Flight Attendants said in a statement it had lost 10,000 members “in the increasingly hostile airline industry.”

The union represents about 36,000 attendants at 26 airlines.

“We begin a new chapter of AFA, one that is marked with opportunities that were not available to us as a single-craft union,” AFA International President Patricia Friend said Dec. 1 in announcing the merger with the 700,000-member CWA.

“They’ll be able to draw on our resources,” said CWA spokesman Jeff Miller. The AFA will share a building, staff and finances with the CWA.

The 59,000-member BLE, based in Cleveland, will become a centerpiece of the 1.4 million-member Teamsters union’s rail-transportation division.

The 140-year-old railroad union has been losing membership in competition with the larger United Transportation Union.

As a Teamsters division, the BLE plans to expand its role to include conductors, brakemen and other railroad workers in addition to its normal membership of engineers.

“The membership has spoken and we are pleased with their decision to merge with the Teamsters,” BLE President Don M. Hahs said in a statement last week.

The mergers give smaller unions the potential to be more effective than they could be alone, said Michael Gottesman, a Georgetown University Law Center professor who teaches labor law.

“There are efficiencies to mergers just as there are in the corporate world,” Mr. Gottesman said. “Good or bad, it depends on whether the members would be better served by the merged organization.”

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