Many union leaders, like Stuart Appelbaum, the head of the most powerful retail workers union (Retail Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU)) are optimistic about the future. While membership at many unions has shrunk, Appelbaum’s RWDSU has had recent notable victories in the generally hard-to-organize retail world by unionizing employees at H&M, Zara, Duane Reade, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s, as well as many car washes, southern poultry workers, and factories across America. Per Appelbaum:
I think we need to organize…. Before we were talking about how much more we could expect from a [Clinton presidency]. Now we find ourselves in a defensive mode. And I think that the answer is organizing…. I believe that part of the message for us has to be that we need to do the things that we always should have been doing.
People are often members of a union and don’t feel a real connection to the union, and don’t feel that they made a choice to become part of the union. I think that when people organize each other, that’s when we’re going to be able to protect and advance what we’ve achieved over the years.
If the American labor movement thinks that we can just go out there and start and control the organizing that takes place, we’re not going to be successful. I think what we can do is create an environment in which organizing takes place. We have to think of ourselves less as an institution, and more as a movement. I think that the mechanism to do that exists today, and it’s social media.
Both money and laws are problems to increasing union members. There are laws that are hostile to unions that are going to become more hostile in this new environment. Resources are limited. But I think we have new ways of communicating with people, and I think we can overcome those obstacles. Part of what we need to do is to expand public services for people. We need tax laws that are going to make sure that everyone including the president of the United States pays his fair share. I’m not convinced on the [universal] basic income. I am convinced on higher wages and higher income for people.
If there are issues and places we can work with Trump, go ahead and work with him on it. But I don’t think that we should normalize him. We can’t look at what he’s doing now and say, “Never mind about the things he said to get here.” I think that it has to be an arm’s length relationship with him.
So to summarize: Appelbaum thinks social media organizing is the way to increase membership – so has every other union for the past 5 years, yet their numbers keep shrinking. He thinks unions have become complacent in keeping members happy and engaged, which may shed light on why their numbers keep shrinking. Oh, and by the way, he doesn’t trust President Trump. Go figure.
Matt Austin who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.