Bureau Of National Affairs
Laborers to Add 90 Organizers as Part Of Expanded National Membership Campaign
By Brian Lockett
Friday, April 20, 2001
The Laborers' International Union of North America plans to spend $9 million over the next two years to beef up its organizing efforts by adding 90 organizers to its regional organizing staff of more than 200, LIUNA President Terrence M. O'Sullivan announced April 16.
When combined with funds expected to be generated within the union's nine organizing regions, the organizing funds should substantially top the $18.5 million the 818,000-member union spent last year on organizing, according to the union. Approximately $5 million of that amount came from the international union, with the balance coming from members' cents-per-hour checkoff contributions directed to one of the union's nine regional organizing funds. In 2000, the union organized 19,200 new members, according to union records.
"Our members' livelihoods directly depend on the strength of our presence in every industry in which we represent workers," O'Sullivan told an April 16 meeting of LIUNA officials in San Antonio. Increased spending for organizing in 2001 "will ensure that we can help even more workers who desperately need union representation."
The announcement of the increased outlay for new organizers is the most recent in a series of events in which the union is building up its organizing capacity, O'Sullivan said in an April 13 BNA interview. Under restructuring in January 2001, LIUNA shifted from an organizing program with a relatively large organizing staff based in Washington to a program working from the union's nine regional organizing funds.
The program complements a $3-million local organizing grant program launched in February. The grant program operates separately from the regional organizing funds, which the union started last year, O'Sullivan said.
Under the grant program, up to 30 percent of a local organizing drive may be funded by the international union, allowing local organizing programs to organize on a larger scale. Local organizing campaigns must come up with the remaining 70 percent of funds needed, according to O'Sullivan.
The grants are awarded by the international to the locals on a competitive basis, O'Sullivan said, with about $250,000 awarded so far this year. Pending applications for grants total about $280,000. Most of the grant applications have been for organizing campaigns in the construction industry, he said, but there also have been numerous applications for campaigns among public sector workers.
Considerable detail is required in the grant applications, O'Sullivan said, including an overview of the campaign, cost, the names of targeted employers, methodology, time frame, and resources the local and regional parties expect to provide. Applications are reviewed at the regional and national level with O'Sullivan making the final award.
Targeted industries in construction have been asbestos abatement, residential construction, and maintenance work, he said. Asbestos abatement has been a particularly productive industry for organizing by the Laborers in New York City and New Jersey, O'Sullivan said, where an understanding of ethnic relationships has been helpful. Polish organizers in New York City and Yugoslav organizers in New Jersey have a good track record of signing up new members from their own ethnic groups, he said.
O'Sullivan added that "we have organizers that look and speak like the group we are trying to organize." LIUNA has had similar success in California among Latino workers. "We look at every sector of the construction industry and ask what strategy is needed to organize that sector," he said. "A majority of our membership is minority," O'Sullivan said. "We are proud of that."
The greater spending on organizing "will take our organization to another level," O'Sullivan said. Increasing financial support from the international has been important, he said, but more important has been the commitment to support organizing at the local level where members have agreed to contribute from five cents to 15 cents per hour to regional organizing funds.
While $18.5 million spent last year on organizing is considerable, O'Sullivan said "it is not nearly enough." Feeling a need to "jump start the whole process," O'Sullivan asked, "if we were successful at $18 million, what could we be at $40 million?"
The booming construction economy provides the union "a golden opportunity" to make a move on organizing. While the economy is unsettled, O'Sullivan said solid federal funding for highway and airport construction means the industry should stay strong for the next three to five years.
Allocation of the $9 million over the next two years will allow the nine regional organizing funds to hire up to 90 additional organizers, or an average of 10 per fund. In the first year, grants will provide up to $60,000 per year for each organizer, or 100 percent of the annual salary, whichever is less. In the second year, regional funds can qualify for half the annual cost of each organizer, or up to $30,000.
Copyright © 2001 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.