AFL-CIO Budget Shifts from Organizing to Political Advocacy

Labor News


Reprinted from Splinter by Hamilton Nolan on May 16, 2019.

“A leaked copy of the AFL-CIO’s internal budget for 2018–2019 shows that America’s largest organized labor federation now dedicates less than a tenth of its budget to organizing—down from nearly 30 percent a decade ago—illustrating a broad philosophical shift in the union world’s priorities,” writes Hamilton Nolan in Splinter.

“In 1995, the AFL-CIO—a coalition of more than 50 major unions, making up the bulk of organized labor in America—found itself in much the same position as it is today: subjected to years of hostile political forces, facing steadily declining union membership, and with a core of activists demanding change in the form of more resources dedicated to organizing new union members. That year, John Sweeney, the head of one of the most successful organizing unions in America, took over as president of the federation on a ‘New Voice’ platform, vowing to re-energize the labor movement. (Also elected that year as secretary-treasurer was Richard Trumka, the current AFL-CIO president.) Sweeney’s administration created a dedicated Organizing Department, set up an Organizing Institute to train new organizers, and made it known far and wide that new organizing would be a top priority. A centerpiece of this platform was a goal to have member unions and the AFL-CIO itself dedicate 30 percent of their overall budgets to organizing. At its 2002 national convention, the federation passed a resolution to this effect. At the same time, the federation ran a strong lobbying campaign to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it much easier for unions to organize workers. Though the push to pour money into organizing was controversial among some member unions, the long-term commitment had at least a momentary quantifiable effect: after declining for much of the 2000s, a small rise in union membership in 2007 was followed by a sharper rise in union density in 2008, accompanied by the largest annual membership gain in a quarter of a century—more than 420,000 new members. …

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“The largest portion of the budget—more than 35 percent—is dedicated to funding political activities …

Splinter 5/16

About Jeffrey Burman 5303 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at

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