Imagine a merger of AFSCME's 1.6 million public sector workers with SEIU's 2 million workers that are about 50-50 public and private sector. That would be a smart move for both, in spite of serious challenges due to differing internal cultures. The two unions already are planning for tight cooperation in organizing, bargaining, and political campaigning – the result of a one-year effort by a joint committee. This is a far cry from the open warfare of ten years ago when SEIU bolted from the AFL-CIO.
Obvious benefits of a merger:
- Common messaging.
- Unified strategies.
- Reduced costs for advertising, phones, mailings.
- Politicians who depend on unions' support and cash won't be able to play one union against the other.
- The cultures are different. AFSCME is more risk-averse; SEIU's organizing efforts are more innovative.
- A lot of energy would go into the merger itself rather than addressing the real work these unions need to do.
Formal merger – if any – is a ways off, and will require lots of meetings. Meanwhile, joining together in ad hoc fashions will increase the clout of both unions as they address common goals such as more funding for schools and hospitals, organizing home-care workers, and supporting their favorite political candidates.
For lots of detail on all of this, see the great New York Times piece by Steven Greenhouse and Noam Scheiber - 2 Big Labor Unions Share Efforts to Gain Power and Scale.