Union to Offer Internet Access
The AFL-CIO has announced plans to start a new Internet service that could provide a high-tech advantage for organized labor in terms of lobbying and political clout. The organization says that it plans to make the service available in December.
Workingfamilies.com will offer a low-cost Internet service to active and retired union members. The potential of the Internet start-up could be a staggering 17 million loyal households. The plan includes a package for union members that offer low-cost computers. Both the Internet service and the low-cost computers will be available only to union members and clearly non-union members will not be eligible.
The Commerce Department has issued a report stating that people who earn $25,000 a year or less cited cost as the primary reason they had no Internet access at home. Households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are 20 times more likely to have home access to the Internet than those at the lowest income levels.
The workingfamilies.com program is aimed at closing the "digital divide" that separates the low-income workers from the more affluent users of the Internet. Many union members make substantially less than $75,000 a year.
The obvious coup for the union would be the power it could wield in purchasing decisions among members and the organization of political power. The president of the Communications Workers of America, Morton Bahr, goes a step further in saying that he thought the new Internet service would be particularly helpful in efforts to organize workers at such companies as Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines. "This is the language of the high-tech worker," Bahr said. "If you're going to organize them, you have to speak their language."
The union-member subscribers would pay no more than $14.95 a month. The union hopes to provide Internet access and a computer for no more than $30 a month. The Internet service is being provided by the AFL-Cio's Union Privilege benefit program at no cost to the federation or its 68 member unions.
The impact of such a service can mean huge dollars for the union through advertising and links. The real key will lie in the interest and loyalty of the 17 million union members.