WASHINGTON (AP) – Leaders of the AFL-CIO on Tuesday asked civil rights and religious groups and liberal think tanks to tell the public that organized labor is important to workers’ quality of life and to defend the right to join unions.

“Your fights have always been our fights and labor has always been proud to be an ally,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told organizers from more than 50 such groups. “Now we need your help as we’ve never needed it before.”

Union membership is down to 8 percent of workers in private industry, and organized labor is trying to regain momentum in efforts to recruit members – a difficult task in the current political environment. Several breakaway unions cited declining membership as their reason for bolting the labor federation this summer.

Sweeney told activists that more people do not join unions “because they know they could lose their jobs if they try.” Also, labor laws are both weak and poorly enforced, he said.

Labor supporters want to win passage of legislation that would protect the right of employees to form unions. The bill has bipartisan sponsors in both the House and Senate, but not enough votes for passage.

David Bonior, a former Democratic congressman from Michigan who is now chairman of American Rights at Work, said it is important for people to understand that labor rights are essential to the well-being of American workers. He said those rights are being violated regularly. “It’s illegal to fire someone for trying to organize a union,” Bonior said.

Labor groups will join with their allies in early December for a week of mobilizing activities that will wrap up on Dec. 10 – International Human Rights Day.

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