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Question of the Month

From the Catherwood Library reference librarians

August-September 2005

PLEASE NOTE: The Reference Question of the Month is kept current only during the month for which it was written. Archived questions will not be updated, and over time may contain inaccurate information or broken web links. We provide archived questions as a service, since much of the information will remain accurate and of continued interest to the ILR community.

Question: How has membership in the AFL-CIO changed over the years?

Answer: The Teamsters, the SEIU, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO this summer. The departures decreased the ranks of the umbrella organization from nearly to 13,000,000 to approximately 9,000,000 members. The AFL-CIO now has 53 national and international affiliated unions, down from 135 in 1955.

However, large fluctuations in membership are not new occurrences for the AFL. The organization has experienced significant blows to its membership in the past, most notably in the late 1930s, when 10 union leaders under John L. Lewis formed the Committee of Industrial Organizations for the purpose of advancing their agenda of industrial unionism. This committee evolved into the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and was a significant rival to the AFL until 1955, when the two unions reunited to form the AFL-CIO.

Since this merger, other unions have had periods of disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO. The Teamsters had been expelled from the AFL-CIO in 1957 due to a corruption scandal and only returned to the organization in 1988. The UAW disaffiliated in 1968, but rejoined in 1981. The Carpenters pulled out in 2001 and remain disaffiliated.

Union mergers, such as the combining of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) with the Hotel Employees and Restarurant Employees Int'l Union (HERE), have led to a decreased number of national unions and thus, a decreased number of national affiliates of the AFL-CIO.

It must also be noted that some unions have a tradition of being independent. The National Education Association (NEA), for instance, has never been affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

The chart below traces membership trends for the AFL, CIO, and the AFL-CIO. The statistics are primarily from convention proceedings of the organizations supplemented with reliable reference books. See notes at end of table for more information.

AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Members and Affiliates through the Years

Organization   

 

Year   

 

Members (in thousands)   

 

National Union Affiliates    

 

American Federation of Labor   

 

1885, 1886   

 

120 (AFL, 1960)   

 

13 in 1886 (Fink, 1975)   

 

1895   

 

260 (AFL, 1960)   

 

30   

 

1905   

 

1494   

 

81   

 

1915   

 

1946   

 

86   

 

1925   

 

2877   

 

96   

 

1935   

 

3045   

 

95   

 

1945, 1948   

 

6931   

 

105 (U.S.B.L.S., 1948)   

 

1955   

 

10593   

 

110 (Fink, 1975)   

 

Congress of Industrial Organizations   

 

1946   

 

6000   

 

39   

 

1954, 1955   

 

5500   

 

32   

 

AFL-CIO     

 

1955   

 

12622   

 

135 attending 1 st Constitutional Convention, AFL-CIO   

 

1965   

 

12919   

 

128   

 

1975   

 

14070   

 

108   

 

1985   

 

13109   

 

94   

 

1995   

 

13007   

 

81   

 

2005   

 

9000 (AFL-CIO, 2005   

 

53 (AFL-CIO, 2005)   

 

  • Unless otherwise noted, pre-1965 membership and affiliate statistics were reported in the officers' reports of the AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Convention Proceedings for the year. In some cases, the number of affiliates was derived by counting the number of unions credentialed at the conventions.
  • More recent statistics were found in the U.S.B.L.S.'s Directory of Labor Unions in the United States; Directory of National Unions and Employee Associations and BNA's Directory of U.S. Labor Organizations.
  • 1885 and 1895 Membership figures were derived from a chart appearing on page 29 of American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book.
  • The number of union affiliates of the American Federation of Labor in 1886 is provide on page 11 of Labor Unions.
  • Affiliate and membership figures for 2005 were found at http://www.aflcio.org.

Works Consulted

AFL-CIO. AFL-CIO Web Page. 2005. <http://www.aflcio.org>. Viewed 8/17/05.

American Federation of Labor. Convention. Report of Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor. Washington, D. C.: AFL, 1884-1969.

American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book: 1919-1960. Washington, D. C.: AFL, 1960.

Congress of Industrial Organizations (U.S.). Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Washington, D.C.: CIO, (1938-1955).

Directory of U.S. Labor Organizations. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs, 1982-2005.

Fink, Gary M. Labor Unions. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977.

List of Organizations Affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Washington, D.C.: AFL-CIO, 1958-1980.

United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Directory of Labor Unions in the United States; Directory of National Unions and Employee Associations (1948-1979).

— Researched by Susan LaCette