February 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Afl-Cio E Welfare Recipients Leaders Will Seek To Unionize Nation’s Workfare Employees

New York Times
 

The AFL-CIO’s leaders have decided to seek to unionize the hundreds of thousands of welfare recipients who will be required to work for their benefits, with the dual goal of improving their working conditions and pressuring states and cities to give them permanent jobs.

With the labor movement vowing to step up its organizing, especially of low-wage workers, union leaders say it is important to recruit workfare employees into unions because they are one of the fastest-growing labor pools in the country.

These leaders contend that it is also important to attract these workers to unions because, in their view, state and city governments are using workfare employees to replace higher-paid union workers.

Several union leaders disclosed on Tuesday that at a closed-door meeting on Monday, the federation’s 54-member executive council voted to back a drive to organize more than one million people who social policy experts estimate will be placed on workfare under the new federal welfare law.

These leaders face bigger obstacles than those in many other organizing drives. In New York, state agencies have ruled that people on workfare are not employees and can not be represented by a union.

The drive could create friction between the union movement and state and city governments. If unions succeed in recruiting workfare participants, they would be pressing governments to raise workers’ welfare payments while the states and cities might protest their budget deficits prevent spending increases.

The union leaders believe recipients would be attracted by the possibility of improved working conditions, like guaranteed training, or warm clothing for workers who clean parks and streets in the winter.

Gerald McEntee, president of the state, county and municipal employees union, said, said the workfare participants would pay reduced dues.

Labor leaders were unsure whether workfare workers would have the right to strike and whether governments could cut off their welfare benefits if they did.


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