"Fresh Thinking"

Historic labor convention draws four from Worker Institute
Monday, September 9, 2013

Four colleagues from the Worker Institute at Cornell are participating in the AFL-CIO national convention where many activists, union leaders and others hope to help shape a more inclusive American labor movement.

Jeff Grabelsky, an academic adviser for the convention's Community Partnerships and Grassroots Power Committee, said that conversations leading up to the four-day event mark "an unprecedented and remarkable period of open dialogue."

"The AFL-CIO is using the convention to generate fresh thinking and new ideas about how to build a dynamic movement that can meet the challenges of a changing world in the 21st century," said Grabelsky, associate director of the Worker Institute.

Held every four years, the convention continues through Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Many say labor is at a crossroads and that continued outreach to non-union groups by the AFL-CIO could strengthen the labor movement, wounded by a drop in union membership.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said he wants to broaden the labor federation's network to link with social justice groups and others also fighting for fair wages and decent working conditions.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11.3 percent of American workers were union members in 2012, down from 20.1 percent in 1983. The numbers of unionized workers dipped to 14.4 million from 17.7 million during that period.

Combined with a difficult economy and political challenges, the decline has created what some consider a crisis for unions and workers' rights.

Lowell Turner, director of the Worker Institute, Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at the ILR School, and Linda Donahue, director of Online Labor Studies, are also attending the convention.

Turner is an academic adviser to the convention's Committee on Growth and Innovation. Bronfenbrenner is an academic adviser to the committee focused on collective bargaining.

Convention sessions range from "Don't Be a Stranger: Labor-Management Partnerships in the Global Age" to "Art and Activism 101: The Creative Power of Arts and Culture as a Catalyst for Action" to "Fighting for Health Care in the Age of the Affordable Care Act."

Policies, goals and resolutions for the next four years will be set at the convention by union delegates, who will also elect national AFL-CIO officers.