ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996


Compiled by Rudolph Lewis


George Meany  





February 1973


The National Labor Relations Board has issued its 1972 annual report, covering the period July 1, 1971 through June 30, 1972. According to the report NLRB’s case load exceeded 40,000 annually for the first time. In fiscal 1972, 41,039 cases were reported.

The Board conducted 8,472 collective bargaining elections in which more than 1/2 million employees voted. In 55% (4,653) of these elections employees voted for union representation. Through these victories unions were certified as bargaining agents for 286,365 – the Comparable figure for fiscal 1971 was 264,747). Unfair labor practice charges continue to run about two-to-one over representation petitions with the unfair labor practice cases showing a 13% increase over the preceding year.

Charges against employers rose 15% over the previous year while those against employers dealt with illegal discharge or other discriminatory practices against employees because of their pro-union activity. This form of employer unfair labor practice–firing union proponents–continues to be the most frequently used violation of the law. The reason for its popularity among employers is obvious. The organizing campaign is dealt a serious blow when an employee identified as a strong union supporter is fired. Even though he may ultimately be compensated or reinstated the effect of the illegal action has been felt, to the detriment of all other employees in the unit.

Refusal to bargain charges represented the second highest type of violation alleged against employers–slightly more than 1/3. While the Board’s current report does not differentiate, several years ago it noted a sharp increase in refusal to bargain cases in “first contract negotiations.” It is likely that such cases continue to be a substantial percentage of the total refusal to bargain category and thus reflect continuation into the bargaining field of employer anti-union activity in the organizing phase. Through NLRB regional directors, the NLRB General Counsel issued 2,709 complaints in 1972, a 7% increase. Close to 78% of these complaints were issued against employers and slightly more than 22% against unions. This is approximately the same ratio as existed the previous year.

The reduction in the number of employees voting in elections suggests a reduction in the size of the units they comprise. That reduction is reflected in the reduction in the number of people in the units won. It also has some influence in the victory percentage performance because as we have been noting for some time, union performance in smaller units is better than that in larger. We have noted that in recent years the average size of units won NLRB collective bargaining elections was 68 while the average size of units lost was 78.


Participation in large-scale organizing program:

In the last six months the department has been requested to assist in major organizing campaigns involving large numbers of public employees. One such campaign was among New York State employees, the other among New Jersey State employees. In response to each request the department assembled a special task force of field representatives from different regions sending them into the designated localities where critical organizing skilled manpower needs had been identified by the union conducting the effort.

In each case the AFL-CIO field staff meshed very well with the Union’s staff representatives. In both cases overall responsibility for the AFL-CIO task force was assigned to the AFL-CIO regional director in whose region the particular state was located. A total of 18 field representatives from seven regions participated in these campaigns. These developments are a continuation of the Department’s program of meeting extraordinary organizing problems. Similar task forces have been brought together for campaigns in the past at a particular target plant or a particular industry.

Cooperative Campaigns:

AFL-CIO continues to conduct cooperative organizing campaigns of varying descriptions and forms. Still continuing is the oldest of such campaigns — the Los Angeles-Orange County Organizing campaign. Now 10 years old [1963-1973], this highly successful operation has encouraged smaller scale “spin-off” programs, roughly comparable, in San Bernardino and in San Diego. The Iowa program continues with its unique involvement of over a dozen central labor unions as well as international unions. That program has been underway for some 8 years [1965-1973].

The Mississippi Organizing program continues to be recognized for its unpublicized success as a cooperative organizing effort. International unions participating in the 6 year old program have maintained a brisk organizing scale and have introduced trade unions into areas of the state that hitherto had been without collective bargaining input. With the spread of organizing interest resulting from the organizing efforts and successes attendant upon the establishment if this Mississippi-wide program, plans are now underway for the creation of a sub-area of concentration in the area of Tupelo and vicinity.

Because of the good experience with the Mississippi program, Region VII has now initiated a preliminary cooperative program in the New Orleans area. Representatives of AFL-CIO unions have been attending meetings chaired by AFL-CIO staff to determine the form and character of the program, and to begin preliminary survey and target and target-clearance operations. The Indianapolis area program, also 1/2 dozen years old [1967-1973] recently featured its annual “kick off” meeting for the current year. The cooperative attitude among the participating unions generated by that program persists in a very evident manner. A somewhat similar limited area program has been in effect in Santa Clara County, California for several years.

Also still in operation, and actively so, are the AFL-CIO sponsored building trades cooperative efforts in Region XV (Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska). The older of the programs there, the Ozark Cooperative campaign, has an uninterrupted history of organizing success in that developing area. The Tampa-Orlando organizing program now nearing its projected two year life span is currently undergoing examination to determine whether it should be continued beyond its originally projected duration and whether its emphasis should be shifted to Orlando, which has proven to be the more active focal point of the organizing effort of many of the unions participating in the program.

For several years, a loosely structured cooperative program among unions interested in GE has been existence. It features target clearing, exchange of organizing information and literature and entails utilization of department staff in mediation efforts when organizing conflicts of interest develop. As presently constituted, the program is not adequate to meet the problems presented to all participating unions in organizing among GE employees. GE is a formidable opponent, resourceful and determined. The Company follows a unified approach that is very difficult to encounter on a piece-meal basis. A meeting is being scheduled probably in late March in which this entire operation will be reviewed in an effort to improve it or supplant it with a more effective mechanism.

One of the considerations that must betaken into account when evaluating cooperative programs is the importance of full time staff availability. Regardless of the number of unions participating, experience shows a direct relationship between the level of organizing activity and the number of full-time staff responsible to the coordinator of the program in a direct staff-line basis. The number of international union representatives assigned to organizing within the scope of the cooperative program is another key factor.

Of the two categories of staff participants, that fully directed by a coordinator plays the more crucial role because its members provide a mobility and versatility international union staff representatives are not always able to offer. When the AFL-CIO coordinator has not a permanent staff large enough to maintain the degree of coordination required, it should be possible for him to employ, train, and assign local unionists, representatives of the working population of the area, with organizing program funds provided by the participating unions. Of the AFL-CIO cooperative organizing programs, only two have been financially equipped to have a staff of that character, the L.A.-O.C. program in its first yew years, and the Baltimore-D.C. program.

It is interesting to note that while, in recent years, the number of unions participating in the program has remained relatively stable, the level of organizing activity has diminished as the number of staff directly responsible to the coordinator has been reduced. And it is significant to note that while the Baltimore-D.C. effort had a short, fixed life span, its influence and impact was felt long after its expiration as a separate project not only by virtue of the cooperative spirit it helped generate but also because a number of staff the program had employed became full time representatives of unions that had participated in the program.


The Department has curtailed its program of conducting organizing training sessions for international union staffs because of the drop in size of the headquarters staff. To the extent possible, we have continued to participate in such programs, however, have recently concluded several, and have several additional scheduled for later in the year.

Recognizing the inability of headquarters personnel to participate at the former level of involvement, we have endeavored to “decentralize” this phase of our program. The result has been that in a number of locations around the country, AFL-CIO field staff personnel have conducted such training programs. These staff members for the most part have been trained in the performance of such tasks during their participation in the field intern program the Department pursues.


A major portion of the training programs our staff conducts for international union staff deals with developing more effective in-plant committees. It is common knowledge that the typical union organizer’s performance record with smaller groups is better than with larger. Personal observations in this regard are supported by objective statistics such as the NLRB figures concerning election results by unit sizes.

The reason “the bigger they come the harder we fall” is that an effective union organizer has great skill in effecting rapport with individuals and small groups because he is dealing virtually on a one-to-one basis. In those circumstances he has few superiors in the whole range of practitioners of the persuasive arts.

It is when the group reaches a size that precludes his maintaining a personal liaison with a majority of the unit that the organizer’s efforts in terms of success begin to decline. Too often he is unable to transfer to the in-plant union support group a sufficient degree of organizing skills to overcome the opposition coming from management. Not as a leader, therefore, but as an educator the organizer too often lacks the necessary qualifications. This is the area of skill in which organizers have to be trained today more than at any other time. We have been attempting to work with AFL-CIO unions in developing ways and means of imparting that kind of knowledge to organizers. It is for that reason we have placed such emphasis in recent years on the training programs our staff has been conducting.

When confronted with a relatively larger unit size some unions, recognizing the problem outlined immediately above, have thought of meeting it in terms of increasing the number of staff assigned to a campaign thus maintaining the theory of the workable ratio between the number of employees and the number of staff. This, however, creates an organizing problem of another dimension and that is staff direction.

Directing organizing staff requires skills and personal traits and knowledge that differ from those of organizing per se. Not every successful organizer can be a successful coordinator of staff. The development of coordinating skills has also occupied our attention in these training programs and has become an increasingly important concern as the move toward cooperative and/or coordinating organizing wins greater acceptance among unions. As cooperative organizing increases in use the role of the AFL-CIO field staff as coordinators assumes greater importance.

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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update 30 December 2011




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