The Emerging Role of Worker Centers: An Update | U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The Emerging Role of Worker Centers: An Update

The Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI) today released a new report titled The Emerging Role of Worker Centers in Union Organizing: An Update and Supplement.  The report provides an updated analysis of so-called “worker centers” following a similar study released in 2013 that first examined the same topic.  As in the original report, the analysis shows that worker centers are an increasingly important and well-funded element of organized labor’s strategy to advance its agenda, with tens of millions of dollars funneled to them by both unions and foundations.  

The updated report examines funding for worker centers during the period 2013-2016, whereas the previous report looked at funding from 2009-2012.  It also stresses that the two reports do not analyze the funding for worker centers in exactly the same way despite some similarities. 

The report begins by looking at the total value of grants issued to worker centers and related entities by twenty activist foundations as well as the recipients of those grants.  Grants are categorized as either direct grants to worker centers or indirect grants to infrastructure providers, and the report shows that foundations provided a total of $106,333,100 of direct and indirect grants supporting worker centers during the three year span of the study.

Next, the report provides a general analysis of different foundations’ patterns of grant-making as well as the recipients of various grants based on the two categories of direct vs. indirect funding.  Among the grant recipients, the largest groups in descending order include the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, the Farmworker Association of Florida, the Workers Defense Project, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Southwest Workers Union, and the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance.  The report also identifies various sources of funding for each group. 

Lastly, the report focuses on the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) efforts to prop up various worker center entities in its ongoing crusade for an inflated $15 minimum wage.  The study concludes that the SEIU spent more than $55 million from 2013-16 for the operating expenses of several “organizing committees” in various locations across the country.  (As this blog has noted before, the SEIU has spent $72 million overall since starting the Fight for $15 five years ago, but it has yielded few, if any, new members for the union.) 

As WFI’s 2013 report noted, worker centers are not a new phenomenon, but they have taken on an increasingly central role in advancing the agenda of organized labor.  The current report demonstrates that they continue to receive substantial funding both from labor unions as well as private foundations.  To the extent that worker centers are engaging in activities more typically associated with unions, though, there could be legal implications worth considering, given the requirements imposed on labor groups imposed by the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.  Either way, worker centers are a powerful force for organized labor worth watching closely.