Worker Centers Need Oversight

In response to Rep. John Kline and Phil Roe’s letter to the Department of Labor asking for a determination whether or not “worker centers” should be held to the same reporting standards as labor unions, Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, suggested in The Hill,Classing worker centers like unions is wrongheaded.”

Bobo advocates workers centers are legitimate non-profit organizations that “empower and protect vulnerable workers in low-wage jobs.” In addition, she chalks up GOP examination of them as a “baldly partisan attempt to restrict the valuable work performed by these non-profit organizations.”

In conclusion, she believes worker centers should be free of financial disclosure requirements of labor unions.

However, there are numerous reasons for Congressional inquiries into worker centers. As I wrote in, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a worker center, is under investigation over charges of alleged multiple health violations. In addition, ROC is notorious for exploiting vulnerable members of society and intimidating restaurant owners.

As I have previous noted, worker centers have become a popular organizing tool because they are “exempt from the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor Management Reporting Disclosure Act, which, in part, instill transparency, democracy in unions and restrict certain union tactics.”

This means worker centers may participate in secondary boycotts, form minority unions and organize employees that traditional labor union’s cannot like immigrants or independent contractors.

While Bobo may attempt to mask the motives of worker centers, union bosses speak plainly on the subject. In a recent Associated Press interview, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry spoke to the importance of worker centers, “Our primary goal is to help workers boost wages… We think a key part of that is helping workers form organizations where they can directly bargain for wages with their employers.”

Stephen Lerner, mastermind behind the ongoing SEIU-sponsored corporate campaign known as Justice for Janitors and the Occupy Movement, said “The fast-food and Wal-Mart strikes are exciting examples of workers reinventing the strike, going on offense and challenging inequality.”

And this is why Republicans and the business community are in an uproar over the spread of worker centers. One, union leaders openly admit to utilizing worker centers to grow its ranks. Two, unions fund and coordinate worker centers to protest, strike and bargain with employers, which the union is unable to organize.

Despite this, with pro-union Labor Secretary Thomas Perez at the helm, applying greater transparency and oversight to worker centers is more than unlikely.