A proposal for a worker's affinity group 

This is a brief outline for the creation of a labor-oriented membership organization modeled on AARP and similar affinity groups The aim of the organization is to provide services to employees who are not covered by existing employment contracts. In addition to providing services as outlined below it would be a way to introduce the working public to the value of a community of people with similar concerns.

For planning purposes this is being called SAFE (Service Association for Employees).

Services

Services will include various types of insurance including health, life and auto. These would be provided through affiliation with existing insurance companies. An appropriate amount of compensation will be submitted to SAFE for each policy written.

In addition, various purchase discounts will be offered in conjunction with firms affiliated with SAFE. Possible examples are travel and car rental discounts as well as hotel and restaurant visits. A SAFE branded credit card may also be available through a partner bank.

Another important service will be the offering of a portable pension plan. This can be based upon an IRA or a 401k type of model and will be provided through one or more partner investment companies.  The model for this is the portable plan for college teachers offered by TIAA-CREF. Employers may also be encouraged to offer this plan to their employees so that matching funds can be contributed. The plan will be fully vested (with perhaps a six month or one year back out period) and under the control of the member. This will be advantageous to small businesses who don't want to have to set up and administer a retirement plan. They just need to make contributions according to a preset schedule to the retirement plan administrator. There may need to be some legislative adjustments needed to allow members to contribute more than the nominal IRA limits if the employer does not want to participate.

Membership will be open to anyone living in the US or possessions. The annual membership fee is intended to be low, on the order of 1$ per month, perhaps with a slightly higher family rate. In addition to the optional benefits listed above each membership will receive a periodic membership magazine. This magazine will be supported by advertising. The editorial content will contain general interest advice columns such as health tips and advice on investment choices and purchasing. The primary focus, however, will be the promotion of positive feelings towards collective worker rights. This includes human interest stories comparing unionized and non-unionized workers in similar jobs as well as stories about worker's rights in general and notable labor-related current events. Testimonials from well-know figures in sports and entertainment as to the benefits of collective bargaining can also be a feature.

Workers today tend to feel isolated and having a common membership organization can help lead to more of a feeling of community. The association's publications are intended to be a step in this direction.

As a membership organization SAFE will also undertake lobbying and other public activities to promote worker-friendly legislation and government regulations. Actual recruitment of workers into existing unions is not a primary goal, although close cooperation should provide SAFE members with information about suitable unions for their trade or firm and organizing efforts they may be interested in.

Creating SAFE

The most efficient way to get this organization running is for an existing labor union or federation to establish this as an independent association. The union would provide a certain amount of seed money and some staff with organizational and management skills. Further funding will be solicited from other unions and suitable public oriented foundations. A union with an existing publishing operation would be a good candidate to help with the magazine production.

Once the seed money and initial staff is in place there needs to be a membership drive. Standard marketing techniques can be used including announcements to union members who may have friends or family that are not unionized. Political organizations such as move-on and other grassroots organizations can be enlisted to notify their members as to the availability of SAFE's benefits. It should be made clear that the primary purpose of the organization is to provide immediate services to members and to improve working conditions in general, not to support specific political parties or campaigns. 

Additional promotion can take place through standard advertising in magazines or newspapers. As an inducement a free three or six month membership could be offered. Although organizations like Move-on were able to become well established almost exclusively via the web it is probable that the target audience for SAFE will not be as computer literate and will have to be reached via other avenues. Serious consideration should also be given to establishing a Spanish language edition of the magazine as well as targeted Spanish advertising.

Goals

Once SAFE is up and running the goal should be to improve the lot of working people in general and members in particular. It is not the goal to compete with traditional unions and members should be encouraged to migrate to a suitable union if their employment situation changes. Many professions such as information technology workers have disdained unions as being too blue collar. Furthermore, middle managers have not been permitted by existing labor laws to participate in unions either. This type of service-oriented membership organization will provide them with the services and organizational structure they are currently lacking.

In the current anti-union environment and the corresponding "every man for himself" ideology this type of organization may be the best that can be hoped for until public sentiment against organized labor can be reversed.

For some graphics showing how the decline of unionization in the US workforce tracks with changes in the wage rate and the standard of living see my essay here. There appears to be a correlation between the stagnation in factory earnings and the decline in the percentage of the workforce that is unionized.


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If you have any comments or for further discussions email me at robert.feinman@gmail.com
Copyright © 2005 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.