The AFL-CIO is one of America's largest and most influential labor union centers. Its name, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, reflects the many careers and trades that it supports, by encompassing more than 50 separate labor unions. (A union is a group that represents the interests of workers in similar jobs, advocating for their best interests in contracts, benefits and legislation.)
The AFL-CIO was formed in 1955 with the merging of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, two large and powerful unions that had previously been competitors for many of the same working members. Today, more than 50 years later, its total membership has grown to more than 10 million, with both national and international groups joining the U.S.-based conglomerate.
The AFL-CIO brings together a loose alliance of individual member unions under one advisory group. The AFL-CIO provides membership benefits for its members, including a union bank and credit union, scholarships, discount rates and other incentives. The role of the AFL-CIO organization, as stated in its mission statement, is to provide guidance and leadership to build a stronger and more effective worker movement. This can include lobbying government for social and economic justice issues, providing assistance to communities in economic need, organizing unions and workers to mobilize as needed, and expanding worker input over contracts, business decisions and more. The large union organization focuses on collectively negotiating and bargaining for better treatment, pay and benefits for workers in its federation.
The AFL-CIO lost some of its member unions during an internal conflict in 2005 to the second-largest alliance of unions, the Change to Win Federation. However, it has added new member unions nearly every year since. The organization adopted new rules in 2001 outlining its requirements for member unions, focusing on such factors as number of workers, structure and organization, leadership and other specific data. However, the group does not discriminate based on the type of work being performed as a consideration for membership. Some current members include the nation's largest: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; United Mine Workers of America; International Union of Police Associations; and others ranging from teachers to writers, to engineers and electricians.
Single unions hold enormous influence over the welfare of their workers and the political sphere. Large federations like the AFL-CIO have even more influence, maintaining an alliance of a large percentage of the working class and using that as a bargaining tool for worker-friendly legislation, especially by endorsing or rejecting electoral campaigns and lobbying for their interests in Congress. The union movement has been a player on America's economic stage since the early 1900s. Their years of work have shown some significant progress, particularly when comparing union worker benefits and pay to that of nonunion workers. For example, the AFL-CIO's website states that union workers are more likely, by large margins, to have health insurance and guaranteed pensions. Additionally, they state that union workers are paid, on average, up to 30 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, due to the lobbying and contract negotiation efforts of the unions.
Unions employ a number of tactics to influence and shape the laws and economic factors affecting American and international workers. Large federations like the AFL-CIO are particularly concerned with globalization and its impact, particularly on American workers who have fallen behind economically in recent years. They will use strikes and jurisdictional lobbying to protest unfair treatment, unequal pay, and unacceptable labor conditions. They will also use their funds (supplied mainly by membership fees) to lobby Congress at both national and state levels for their preferred working conditions. They also provide organizational assistance to local unions and representation for individual workers who need advocacy in a disciplinary or civil case.