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What it is

 

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations-usually referred to as the AFL-CIO-is a
voluntary federation of 90 national and international labor unions in the United States.
 
At root, the AFL-CIO is people, 14.1 million workers in occupations as diverse as America itself-actors and entertainers,
construction workers, barbers and hairdressers, steelworkers, machinists, bus drivers, railroad workers, telephone operators,
newspaper reporters, television camera crews, sales clerks, garment workers, engineers, janitors, printers, school teachers,
farm and cannery workers, auto workers, post office clerks and letter carriers and many more.
 
In nearly every field of human endeavor, workers have formed unions to bargain collectively with their employers, striving to
improve their lot by achieving just wages and working conditions.
 
In turn, these unions formed the AFL-CIO to represent them in the creation and execution of broad national and international
policies and in coordinating a wide range of joint activities.
 
The 90 affiliated unions of the AFL-CIO are made up of more than 45,000 local unions, through which day-to-day
relationships are conducted with several hundred thousand employers. These local unions have negotiated more than 130,000
collective bargaining contracts that help give the American worker a measure of economic security by spelling out rates of pay,
hours of work, overtime, hospitalization and medical benefits, vacations, holidays, seniority, the handling of grievances,
pensions and much else.
 
Most of these contracts-98 percent, according to government statistics-run their course without a strike or other interruption of
work. They have become part of the nation's economic foundation upon which its workers have built the highest living standard
in the world.
 
The AFL-CIO itself, however, does no bargaining. It is not a union, but a union of unions.
 
It was established on December 5, 1955, when the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial
Organizations merged into a single trade union center. This merger ended a 20-
 
year split in the ranks of the American labor movement growing out of differences over the form trade union organization should
take.
 
The merger recognized the principle that both craft and industrial unions are appropriate, equal and necessary as methods of
union organization.
 
The merged Federation came into being with a legacy of effective, practical, democratic trade unionism dating back to the
formation in 1881 of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, which five years
later evolved into the AFL.
 
Each member union of the AFL-CIO remains autonomous, conducting its own affairs in the manner determined by its own
members. Each has its own headquarters, officers and staff. Each decides its own economic policies, carries on its own
contract negotiations, sets its own dues and provides its own membership services.
 
Each of the 90 affiliated unions is free to withdraw at any time. But through its voluntary participation, it plays a role in
establishing overall policies for the American labor movement, which in turn advances the interests of every union.
 
The AFL-CIO serves its constituent unions by:
 
Speaking for the whole labor movement before Congress and other branches of government.
Representing American labor in world affairs, through its participation in international labor bodies and through direct
contact with the central labor organizations of free countries throughout the world.
Helping to organize the unorganized workers of the United States.
Coordinating such activities as community services, political education and voter registration for greater effectiveness.
 
While retaining control over their own affairs, member unions have ceded a degree of authority to the AFL-CIO in certain
matters. These include internal disputes. Each union has agreed to submit certain types of disputes with other affiliated unions to
the mediating and judicial processes of the AFL-CIO. Affiliated unions have also agreed to follow a procedure to resolve
disagreements over organizing, determine responsibilities and set guidelines for organizing drives.

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