- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

The University of the District of Columbia’s faculty joined the AFL-CIO yesterday, bringing nearly 200 local educators into the national labor federation.

The UDC Faculty Association became the second member of the National Education Association (NEA) to join the AFL-CIO and the first in the Washington area.

More than 165,000 AFL-CIO union members are in the metro region, including the 8,000-strong Washington Teachers’ Union, said regional officials from the AFL-CIO.

Last year, the AFL-CIO reorganized its constitution to allow local chapters of the NEA, the nation’s largest independent union, to become direct affiliates.

The reorganization occurred after five unions left the AFL-CIO to form an independent labor group called the Change to Win Federation. The AFL-CIO lost 5 million members as a result of the split, and nearly $25 million in funding.

U.S. union membership has fallen from 35 percent of the work force in the mid-1950s to 12 percent currently.

“NEA members and members of the AFL-CIO unions share common challenges including good collective bargaining agreements and retirement and job security,” said Leslie Richards, president of the UDC Faculty Association.

The AFL-CIO will help the faculty by organizing and lobbying Congress to set better working conditions for employees. AFL-CIO officials said their focus on teachers’ issues concerns wages, pensions and public health care.

“Through this affiliation we are hoping to wage stronger campaigns and increase member mobilization around the issues we are really involved in,” said Esmeralda Aguilar, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO.

The agreement unites the UDC Faculty Association with the AFL-CIO’s Metro Washington Central Labor Council, the Maryland AFL-CIO and National AFL-CIO.

“It is a small step but an important one for the labor movement,” said Joslyn Williams, president of the Metro Washington Central Labor Council.

Ms. Aguilar said more faculty associations are soon to follow, including a union from Beloit, Wis. The Seattle Education Association was the first local teachers union to join.

The AFL-CIO represents 10 million members. The labor federation has 52 affiliated unions nationwide.

Some scholars say that the involvement of local teachers unions is likely to be a positive step.

But they point out that workers would have a greater impact if they had a unified national K-12 teachers union.

“This is building-block stuff here, but it will certainly take more than the local groups getting involved to achieve a unified organization,” said Robert Bruno, associate professor of the labor education program at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

“A unified national teacher’s union would be a more prominent and forceful organization than the current decentralized and fractured one,” Mr. Bruno said.

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