On July 23, two senior House Republicans issued President Obama’s freshly confirmed Labor Secretary an ultimatum on an increasingly contentious issue – ‘worker centers.’ Some claim worker centers are non-profit worker training centers while others claim they are labor unions operating outside of federal law.
U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman David Roe (R-TN) sent a letter to Secretary Thomas Perez (pictured at right) requesting a ruling on whether worker centers fall under the reporting requirements of the Labor Management Reporting Disclosure Act (LMRDA).
According to the Economic Policy Institute, worker centers are non-profit, “community-based and community-led organizations that engage in a combination of service, advocacy, and organizing to provide support to low-wage workers.” These organizations provide skills training, language training, and education about workers’ rights to low-wage employees. In the letter, however, the two senior Republicans claim that worker centers are also “taking direct action to alter conditions of employment and organize employees.”
Worker center advocates claim they are simply non-profit organizations that advocate employers comply with basic labor law. In the letter, however, Chairman Kline and Chairman Roe claim that these centers constitute an informal union, carrying out the regular advocacy efforts of a designated union without the LMRDA reporting requirements of one. Furthermore, they claim that since worker centers are not held under the same regulations as designated labor organizations, they are allowed to carry out additional efforts such as secondary picketing and act without majority support from the employees, which designated unions are not.
Under Section 2 of the National Labor Relations Act, any organization in which employees participate that “exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours, or other terms of condition or employment,” is classified as a labor organization. These organizations are required to file a report on their financial “condition and operations” each year. These reports allow both employees and employers to see where dues and other financial contributions are going, and hold these organizations accountable.
The letter requested Secretary Perez to issue a ruling by Aug. 6, 2013.