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Worker Centers Under Attack

Freedom Foundation pushes US DOL to shut them down and deport

Kris LaGrange's picture
Aug 05, 2020

Worker centers play an important role in helping organize workers who aren’t traditional union members. These centers usually focus on helping immigrant workers to get benefits, teach them about their rights as a worker, and provide training on things like safety procedures. In some places, they even serve as a hiring hall so that people like day laborers don’t have to stand on the side of the road to get work. They can also be an important voice for these workers, lobbying on behalf of them with local and state governments.

Since they advocate for workers, many also have ties to unions. This makes sense since unions want to make sure that these workers are safely working and also make sure that they aren’t undercutting wages. While they may look a little bit like a union, they are usually non-profits that don’t have bargaining rights. Most of the people they work with are in industries that are especially difficult to organize, like nannies, day laborers, or gig economy workers. Part of the difficulty a union would face in organizing them is that they may have a different boss every day, may work off the books, or the company has classified them as an independent contractor. These centers also get to follow different rules than a union, often giving them more flexibility in what they can do at a job site. By classifying these centers as non-profits, they also can be a vital tool for unions. ­­

These ties to unions and the fact that people who are a part of workers' centers have better wages and working conditions have long made them the enemy of the anti-union crowd. In Washington state, the Freedom Foundation and the Center for Union Facts have decided to go after a local worker center, Working Washington. In a complaint sent to the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, the groups say that Working Washington should be considered a labor organization. In their complaint, they say Working Washington “advocates for changes in workers’ wages, hours, and conditions of employment—making it little more than a “union front organization.” They go on to say that the group has received $15 million in funds from unions to fund their work.

By classifying workers centers as a labor organization or a union, the Labor Department would be severely restricting the work that these non-profits can do. By making them a labor organization, most workers centers wouldn’t be able to provide the same level of service that they currently do for their members. Things like OSHA safety training, important lobbying work, and advocacy for equal pay would all be limited by the rules of the National Labor Relations Act. While these anti-union groups would raise millions off of it, work would become more dangerous for immigrant workers around the nation.

Thankfully, any investigation that the Department of Labor opens up is expected to take months if not years to complete. This all but guarantees that a decision will not be made under Trump unless he wins re-election. Hopefully, under a Biden Department of Labor, any challenge to workers centers will be turned away.  

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