A new report released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Employment Policy Division urges the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to revisit its treatment of certain so-called “worker centers”—also known as union front groups—under federal law.
Specifically, Worker Centers: Union Front Groups and the Law encourages DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) to apply the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act’s (LMRDA) financial transparency and democratic protections for workers to worker centers that directly engage employers. The report points out that while many worker centers have historically been non-profit organizations that offer services to their members, those that directly engage with employers act no differently than traditional labor organizations, and should be treated as such under the law.
According to Worker Centers, in 2008 and again in 2013, DOL erred in finding that certain worker centers were not subject to the LMRDA, and cites the statute’s own language and OLMS’s own interpretive manual in support. In particular, the report details how the prior DOL misinterpreted the law’s coverage of groups that do not have a formal collective bargaining agreement in place. The agency also took the unusual position that certain worker center group members did not “participate” in a group because they were not involved in governance or steering operations of the group—despite the fact that the LMRDA leaves the term undefined.
Worker Centers examines a list of groups that are likely to meet the definition of a “labor organization” under the LMRDA, including: the Retail Action Project, Organization United for Respect at Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Restaurant Opportunities Center and its affiliates, and Jobs with Justice.
The report makes clear: If worker centers are going walk and talk like labor unions, worker centers members ought to enjoy the same financial transparency and democratic protections under the law as union members. It’s time for DOL to take a fresh look at these groups, and consider which should be treated as labor organizations under the law.