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New union welcomes all — working or not

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is expected to announce in Detroit today the formation of a newfangled national labor union that is specifically for employees who don’t have union representation at work.

Working America will serve as a voice for nonunion — and even unemployed — workers on labor issues such as jobs, health care and education, Sweeney is to tell the Detroit Economic Club during a luncheon at the Cobo Conference Center.

Unlike many unions, such as the UAW, Working America will not be industry- or workplace-based and will have no bargaining power. Instead, it will recruit members through a neighborhood-based, door-to-door campaign that the AFL-CIO tested in Cleveland and Seattle.

In August, the executive council of the AFL-CIO gave Sweeney authority to issue a charter to Working America on a provisional basis and to issue bylaws for the union, including an initial dues structure. Information about fees was not available Tuesday or on the group’s Web site,

The goal of the new union, though, seems to be less about money and more about promoting a social and political agenda for working-class people. So Working America may be likened to the AARP, which collects dues to advance its platform for retired Americans.

The AFL-CIO’s push for the union comes as the U.S. presidential campaign heats up, and the union federation begins more loudly challenging President George W. Bush’s record on jobs, the economy and other workers’ issues.

“The overwhelming majority of working Americans rejects this anti-worker, antifamily agenda and is ready to overturn it, but lacks a movement to make its voices heard,” the AFL-CIO said on its Web site, referring to the new union.

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