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Why worker centers?
Worker centers have become the preferred organizing and attack mechanism for labor unions, who are desperately seeking to reverse many years of declining union membership. Operating free of the laws and regulations that govern unions, these organizations have taken the most outrageous union tactics to a new level. They are leading corporate attack campaigns, lobbying Big Labor’s political agenda and organizing within non-union workplaces while publicly presenting themselves as benevolent non-profits.
For nearly a century, the laws that govern interactions between unions and employers have evolved both at the federal and state level. These laws created a balanced system to protect workers from abuse and undue pressure from either union organizers or from employers. The aim of these laws was to create a safe environment where workers could choose to join a union or choose not to join a union without fear of retaliation or intimidation by either party. By using worker centers to circumvent these regulations, unions are working to gain a strategic advantage that destroys this balance. With membership at its lowest levels since World War II, union leaders see worker centers as their best and perhaps last chance to regain relevance, and are putting tremendous resources behind worker center campaigns.
Workers, policymakers, journalists and the general public, for the most part, have no idea that these local worker centers are, in essence, front groups for unions. Worker Center Watch aims to preserve the balance that has effectively governed workplace relations for many decades by exposing the direct operational linkages and funding between unions and worker centers, and by highlighting the worker center tactics that push the bounds of legality.
What is a worker center?
Worker center is an academic term. It refers to a subset of community-based organizations usually incorporated as 501c3 non-profit organizations. There is no legal definition of a worker center, and as such, it’s an evolving model of organizing. There is broad consensus, among supporters and detractors alike, that worker centers provide services, organize and advocate on behalf of non-union workers.
Early worker centers, and some that still operate today, focused on providing services, e.g. worker trainings, legal assistance, etc. These centers proved effective in cultivating meaningful relationships with a non-union workforce. With union membership in steep decline, it wasn’t long before seasoned labor organizers recognized the advantages of the model and hijacked it for their own purposes.
Many of today’s worker centers, or more appropriately union front groups, focus on organizing and advocacy as core functions and are specifically designed to do and go where unions cannot. Today, unions have founded, funded and are working conjunctively with the most recognizable worker centers in the country. Unions have fully co-opted the model and believe that by utilizing worker centers they can evade the rules and regulations that govern their operations, and in doing so, revitalize the labor movement.
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Find worker centers operating near you.