MARLBOROUGH - Plenty of pundits have tried to claim the labor movement is near death in recent decades, and Robert Haynes has a message for all of them: Don't count unions out yet.
Plenty of pundits have tried to claim the labor movement is near death in recent decades, and Robert Haynes has a message for all of them: Don't count unions out yet.
Speaking at the organization's 50th annual constitutional convention Thursday, Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said stories about the death of unions are exaggerated, and he predicted the labor movement would soon enter a second renaissance.
``Our power is not diminishing, it's getting stronger,'' Haynes said.
Although many studies show union membership has reached its lowest point since World War II, Haynes cited studies which suggest about 55 million people would join a union if given the chance.
And more people in Massachusetts may get that chance, he said, thanks to legislation Gov. Deval Patrick signed at the convention.
Called the ``majority authorization'' bill, the new law makes it easier for workers to form unions by doing away with the secret ballot election requirement, instead allowing unions to form if workers sign union organizing cards.
While unions in the state have been hurt by the loss of manufacturing and other jobs, Haynes predicted the new law would bring thousands more workers into the fold.
``One reason for (the lack of) growth was because we gave license to employers to resist union organization,'' he said. ``Literally thousands of people in Massachusetts will be organized through this law.''
Other union members attending the convention were equally confident the labor movement hasn't breathed its last.
``I think labor is rebounding, I think it's on the rise,'' said Robert McCarthy, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. ``They're still viable in Massachusetts ... and we're growing.''
That growth, said Ken Donnelly, secretary/treasurer of the PFFM, has come particularly among younger workers, who are beginning to see the economic advantages unions offer.
``When you look at the economy and what kids need to do now to make a living, most of them are working two jobs,'' he said. ``Their wages are just not keeping up with a decent standard of living.
``I believe they are going to start realizing they need to band together. I think we are going to have a rebound.''
``I think unions are going to come back,'' agreed Denise Brown, an employee at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
Like Haynes, she pointed to the bill signed yesterday by Patrick as a welcome weapon for unions to regain their former strength.
``I think that (unions) are going to come back, and with the bill Governor Patrick signed today, that's going to help,'' she said.
For Cynthia Rodrigues, president of the Greater Southeast Massachusetts Labor Council, the question of whether unions could remain a force in the workplace wasn't a question at all.
``(Unions) are still well and alive. Just look at all the work we've done!'' she said.
Peter Reuell of The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at 508-626-4428, or at email@example.com.