- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. The AFL-CIO yesterday announced a new effort to shore up its sagging membership with a public-awareness campaign to expose abuses of employers.
The new strategy follows a Labor Department report Tuesday showing union membership dropped to 16.1 million members in 2002, down from 16.4 million a year earlier. Union leaders blamed the export of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries, a weak economy and layoffs in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Today we're launching an unprecedented union movement-wide Voice at Work campaign to expose the immoral and illegal tactics employers use to thwart union drives and destroy the hopes of workers," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.
The new strategy puts greater emphasis on eliciting support from community members and elected officials for workers who accuse their employers of abuse.
"Recent polling shows that half of working Americans would join a union tomorrow if given a chance, but too few will get that opportunity because employers routinely violate workers' freedom to form unions," Mr. Sweeney said.
The labor federation also plans to focus more on recruiting and training union organizers. The effort would be directed primarily at immigrant workers and core industries where unions have been most successful, AFL-CIO officials said.
The rhetoric they plan to use would emphasize economic instability and the rising cost of health care.
The first battleground in the campaign is Cintas Corp., a Cincinnati-based uniform laundry company. The labor federation accuses Cintas of subjecting low-wage workers to unsafe work conditions and intimidating them to avoid joining a union.
Company officials have denied the accusations. They also have accused the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) of pressuring employees to join the union by contacting them at home and by publishing misleading statements about the company.
Cintas operates 180 laundries in 40 states. Their customers include airlines, the Red Cross and companies that require their employees to wear uniforms.
Victor Hidalgo, a former $9-per-hour Cintas employee, said he sought union assistance after his complaints to management were ignored about the health risks of unloading dirty and blood-stained medical clothing from trucks.
"I know it was because of my union activity that they fired me," he said.


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