Bloomberg Law: Marick Masters on next AFL-CIO president

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In the last years of his life, the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka often included a warning in his public speeches: Labor leaders once thought that technology would create more economic equality by increasing workers’ efficiency and raising standards of living; but that assumption, he’d say, was proven to be false by the rise of Big Tech, automation, and e-commerce. Trumka’s remarks were a tacit acknowledgment that the labor movement was still losing ground in what he saw as a second industrial revolution. The exploitation of workers would continue, he predicted, if unions didn’t fight back. That task will now be left to Trumka’s successor as head of the nation’s largest labor federation following his death earlier this month. Early endorsements by AFL-CIO member unions suggest that Liz Shuler, the federation’s sharp-witted secretary-treasurer, has the inside track to carry on Trumka’s vision. Shuler, who was one of Trumka’s closest advisers and now serves as acting president, has already locked in support of several major member unions ahead of the vote. But she could have a formidable challenger in Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, a leftist firebrand known for her soaring speeches on worker power. “That sort of up-front, in-your-face style is one approach, but it isn’t always the most effective one,” said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University who studies unions, referring to Trumka. “She has a lot of wealth and experience, she’s articulate, and I think she can make the case effectively.”

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