Author urges radical shift in union organizing

Mark Breslin says the “clock is ticking” and labor must make radical changes in order to survive

WITHOUT RADICAL CHANGES in the way unions operate, organized labor will at best become irrelevant and at worst sink into oblivion.  Such gloomy forecasts are prevalent today, with unions representing only about 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, not to mention recent divisions within the AFL-CIO.

But there is hope, according to Mark Breslin, a speaker, author, and trainer. In his book, Organize or Die (published in 2003), Breslin outlines the steps unions must take to rebuild membership and thus regain their former strength.

Breslin is a fourth-generation contractor who has worked closely with construction unions on the West Coast. A popular speaker at labor conferences in North America, he addressed the Boilermakers Winter Construction Conference at Marco Island, Fla., Feb. 14 as well as the NACBE conference there.

Breslin doesn’t pull any punches in his book or in his live presentations. He admonishes unions to adopt a more business-like approach to organizing and to avoid blustering and threatening. His central argument is for top-down organizing. To be successful, Breslin says, unions must do a much better job of marketing and selling what they have to offer. They must identify the advantages of union crews and articulate those advantages to nonunion contractors and clients. And unions must adopt modern, strategic methods of getting their message out. Moreover, says Breslin, union members themselves must embrace winning attitudes and behaviors; on-the-job excellence by itself is no longer enough in today’s highly competitive construction industry.

Breslin calls for union sales messages that resonate in the marketplace. He rejects such slogans as “union yes,” calling them “feel good” messages that convey nothing of substance to contractors whom unions may wish to organize.

Organize or Die is both a warning and a message of hope. In Breslin’s view, unions can regain market share if they act aggressively and with total commitment. But he estimates that labor has perhaps a five-year window to reformulate itself before it’s too late. “The clock is ticking,” he says.

Learn more about the book online at; by phone at 866-351-6275; or by writing to Mark Breslin, 2415 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #4-230, San Ramon, CA94583.