Workers of the world unite to strike against … AFL-CIO?

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Imagine an employer giving a unionized workforce an ultimatum for concessions, and then imposing cuts when the local union balked. Progressives would rush to the barricades, led by Big Labor’s top officials. But what happens when the employer is the AFL-CIO, as the Washington Post reports? Richard Trumka’s attempt to quash a contract dispute blew up in his face yesterday:

The biggest federation of unions in the United States has called on companies this year to raise worker pay amid a flourishing economy. But now employees of the AFL-CIO say the labor group isn’t practicing what it preaches — and they’re prepared to picket over it.

About 50 janitors, drivers, secretaries and accountants at the union’s offices in greater Washington, all represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), voted Tuesday to authorize a strike if their employer does not meet their demands.

The workers, two thirds of whom are older than 50, say the AFL-CIO offered them a new contract in September that included a three-year pay freeze, less reliable hours, cuts to sick leave and weaker seniority rights.

After they rejected those terms, the AFL-CIO notified them Monday it would impose the contract.

To be fair, the union economy isn’t flourishing — especially not after Janus. The Supreme Court ruled that public-employee unions could not demand agency fees from non-members, essentially creating open shops throughout all government offices at all levels. That ruling doesn’t impact private-sector workshops, but these days the union movement is kept afloat by the public sector. The AFL-CIO might be more buffered from the impact of Janusgeddon than SEIU and AFSCME, but the hit to their revenue will still be substantial.

Even with that in mind, though, Trumka’s move here is at the least cynical, if not entirely hypocritical. We don’t know what specific demands the workers were making here; Trumka’s office pointed out that they’re doing all right, with an average salary of $60,000 a year — almost 20% higher than the average household income in the US. The union represents a broad range of positions, however, from custodians to accountants. That average might be a little misleading, especially when it comes to the blue-collar workers within the group. And that still doesn’t account for Trumka’s demand for concessions and then his decision to impose them unilaterally.

Why, that almost sounds like … union-busting. That’s how Trumka would put it if any other private employer used those tactics. In fact, Trumka’s currently running a campaign attacking private employers as greedy, demanding more concessions for workers, which makes this strike just a wee bit inconvenient. It’s arching a few eyebrows around the labor campfire:

Working while his own employees are on strike — including the people who drive him and clean his office, according to the OPEIU — would be seen as “taboo,” said Joseph Slater, a labor professor at the University of Toledo College of Law.

“It’s embarrassing for people in leadership to be seen doing that,” he said.

In fact, we’d have to see whether Trumka ends up crossing the picket line. That’d make for very amusing optics, wouldn’t it?

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