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Worker Centers: Union Front Groups and the Law
Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 8:00am
The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) in the U.S. Department of Labor is the federal agency responsible for administering and enforcing most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, as amended (LMRDA). The LMRDA was enacted by Congress to ensure basic standards of democracy and financial integrity in labor organizations representing, or purportedly representing, employees in private industry. The LMRDA promotes labor organization and labor-management transparency through reporting and disclosure requirements for labor organizations and their officials, employers, labor relations consultants, and surety companies.
In recent years, groups representing workers and their interests have evolved into organizations known as “worker centers.” Worker centers have historically been non-profit organizations that offer services to their members, including education, training, and advocacy for worker rights through research, communication, lobbying and organizing. Increasingly, however, worker centers have sought to directly engage specific employers or groups of employers to effectuate change in the workplace on behalf of workers they claim to represent. When it comes to such direct engagement and dealing with employers, many worker centers act no differently than traditional labor organizations.
The LMRDA was enacted, in part, to ensure protection of certain minimum rights of employees vis-à-vis the labor organizations that represent them. The LMRDA contains significant protections for employees with respect to promotion of the principles of organizational democracy, access to basic information, and promotion of a duty of fair representation. As worker centers have evolved over the years, many have assumed roles akin to those of a traditional labor organization, and as such should be accountable to the workers they claim to represent under the laws Congress passed to establish such accountability. However, few appear to have embraced the obligations of the LMRDA.