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Respect, cooperation can be the keys to economic progress

Rochester Business Journal
May 28, 2010

This month I've chosen to let others speak for labor. Below are two current pieces about our nation's growth, rebuilding our infrastructure and combating the misinformation distributed by anti-labor organizations.

In the first, AFL-CIO writer James Parks reports that a survey of small-business owners found strong support for workers' right to join a union. In the second, the AFL-CIO explains its efforts to draw new, younger members into activism.

The two pieces, while not on the same topic, have the same spirit of moving forward, enabling our country to make progress. Allowing input and dialogue, allowing younger minds and older minds to work together is labor's fundamental purpose: negotiation. It is only through negotiation, with factual information, that we will progress as a country. And as in the past, it is only with labor's assistance that we will again become successful.

Survey: Small-business owners say unions good for business

Despite U.S. Chamber of Commerce propaganda, the nation's small-business owners recognize the value of employees forming a union, according to a new survey by American Rights at Work. The survey was released May 17, the same day the chamber opened its annual small-business summit.

Some 80 percent of the small-business owners and self-employed individuals surveyed agreed that "strong unions make the free market system stronger." A significant majority-54 percent-strongly agreed.

ARAW Executive Director Kimberly Freeman Brown says: "We are learning that small-business owners across America support the rights of employees to organize unions, believing not only that it makes good business sense, but also that strong unions make the free market system stronger."

A full 69 percent of the respondents said it was very important to their businesses that "Congress enact legislation that rewards responsible employers who respect their workers' right to join a union."

Brown added: Small-business leaders are showing us that there is a path to a "win-win" economy in America. Employers and workers can both generate success and share in the rewards of their hard work together.

The online survey included 1,055 respondents who identify themselves as small-business owners or self-employed individuals.

The full results of the survey, "Surveying the Small Business Owner: The Value of Unions In America," are online at

Among other results, the survey found:

  • Some 52 percent of small-business owners express strong concern that "unions have been weakened so much that our economy has actually been hurt."
  • Nearly three out of five-58 percent-strongly agreed that "labor unions are necessary to protect the working person."
  • A huge 72 percent strongly agreed that good businesspeople "can make a profit and respect their workers' choice to form a union."

As one politically independent small-business owner in Virginia said: "When workers form unions, they can secure benefits and rights in the workplace, including a decent wage and health care. They have economic and job stability. Unions lift workers, and workers lift the economy. It's as simple as that."

AFL-CIO hosts first

Young Workers Summit

Young activists and union workers who are "next up" to lead the labor movement will meet in Washington for the first national Young Workers Summit hosted by the AFL-CIO from June 10 to 13.

The "Next Up" summit, which is the culmination of a five-city listening tour, is the kickoff of a long-term outreach program to working people under the age of 35.

Young labor leaders and activists will have an opportunity to share their ideas and experiences with each other and learn how to engage other young working people in their communities. They'll also be meeting with AFL-CIO leaders to voice their opinions and provide feedback on the role of young people in the labor movement. AFL-CIO leaders hope to create a two-way dialogue in order to listen to the concerns of young workers and make changes to strengthen and grow the labor movement.

"We're all experiencing the economic crisis-but young workers have been hurt disproportionately," said AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler. "Young people need the union movement, and we need young workers to be engaged. Participants at the Young Workers Summit are going to develop an action plan and identify more of what we need to do to make sure we're fully integrating and calling upon our young members."

This spring Shuler met with young workers in five different cities. She listened to what they had to say about the issues they face in the workplace and their unions, including their often creative and passionate ideas about how to address those issues. Those forums set the stage for the summit and the AFL-CIO's long-term outreach to young workers.

Last year the AFL-CIO conducted a survey a young workers which found that only 31 percent of 18- to 35-year-olds make enough money to cover their bills and put some aside. Almost a third are uninsured, and one in three still lives at home with parents. The Economic Policy Institute also released a study last month showing the challenges facing jobless young workers who lack a safety net and often don't qualify for unemployment benefits.

The Young Workers Summit will address those challenges and gather ideas to continue to make the labor movement more relevant to the next generation of workers.

James Bertolone is president of the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He also is president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 215.

(c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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