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AFL-CIO Hopes To Reassert Unions' Relevance With New Web Site Launch

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, March 1 2012

America's largest federation of unions pulled the wraps off of a year-long effort to revamp its online presence Thursday in an effort to broaden the movement's appeal.

Union membership has been steadily declining as a percentage of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, just over 20 percent of the working population were members of unions. Today, that number is down to 11.8 percent. A a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press last February showed that Americans' views on the favorability of unions are at a quarter-century low, with just 45 percent of Americans having a positive view of unions.

It's in this context that the AFL-CIO is launching its new presence on the web: Its new web site is more visual than its text-heavy previous incarnation, putting a face on the broader movement, and it seeks to overhaul the public image of the kinds of people who are members of unions. The federation's launch video for its new web site, for example, shines the spotlight on Screen Actors Guild Member Octavia Spencer, who just won an Oscar for her role as an African American maid in Mississippi in the the early 1960s in "The Help."

"The goal of the AFL-CIO’s new website is to not only be a resource for working family issues, but to provide an online forum and showcase working families and union members in a new and nontraditional way,” said the AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler in a statement.

The AFL-CIO's goal with its new site is to also better explain its views to the broader public of how large groups of people working together can address issues that affect every family, such as the cost of health insurance. Under the "innovations" section, the federation notes that unions can lower the cost of healthcare by using their large numbers of members to bargaining with healthcare companies.

Mobilization is another component of the web site -- it enables people to look up local union events that they can take part in via their zip code.

"The goal is to really allow people to take action locally, so the site shows people how they can contact their members of congress, how to find out where local events are, and how to sign a petition," said Tune.

The subject of voters' rights is another new section of the site, reflecting a broader initiative underway at the federation to arm voters with information in the wake of the many new state laws enacted in the past year that have changed the criteria for voter registration. The federation recently hired Cindy Smalls as its new voting rights manager, a new position. Online, voters in every state can download a fact sheet with information about how to register to vote, what identification they will need in order to be allowed to vote, and voting deadlines.

The leaders of the AFL-CIO hopes that the new online site will broaden the labor movement's appeal to ordinary working Americans who may not be members of any unions. To that end, its implemented a new tagging system that it hopes that will improve its search engine optimization. The AFL-CIO hired Beaconfire to help build its new web site. The company worked with the federation's eight-member digital strategy team, headed up by Jared Schwartz, to create the site.

"We're looking to be at the top of searches when people are looking for information about issues relevant to working families," said Tune.

The federation's old web site was registering visits from just 350,000 unique visitors a month.