Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

“Worker Committees” a $15 Million SEIU Project

We’ve covered the SEIU-led campaign to organize fast food restaurants without a secret ballot—a.k.a. by “card check”—since it began nearly two years ago. It’s a big push by one of America’s most aggressive labor organizations get two big “wins” for the union: A minimum-wage hike—which our research shows would benefit SEIU directly in addition to hurting non-unionized SEIU competitors—and a national card-check unionization of the fast food industry.

In 2013, SEIU (and its locals) pumped at least $15 million toward organizations involved in its fast food campaign. We’ve provided a handy diagram below that shows the tangled web of SEIU money, front groups, and political consultants.



We’ll point out a few key players in this web that people should know more about.

  1. Berlin Rosen, Ltd.: Berlin Rosen is a campaign consulting firm out of New York with deep ties to labor unions and the city’s Democratic-Working Families Party political establishment. In total, labor organizations paid Berlin Rosen $3,928,226 in their 2013 fiscal years. Leading the way were the SEIU and its locals for worker center-related campaigns and the Communications Workers of America, which paid the firm to run corporate campaigns against Verizon during contract negotiations and against Cablevision during a CWA organizing drive. Berlin Rosen also runs the worker center campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) against Wal-Mart.
  2. The “Workers Organizing Committees” or WOCs: After the first rounds of so-called “fast food strikes”—it’s disingenuous to claim that protests by paid organizers and outside agitators are “strikes” in any meaningful sense of the word—the SEIU registered the “Workers Organizing Committees” as labor unions with the Department of Labor. Purportedly unaffiliated with SEIU, the WOCs receive the overwhelming majority of their revenue in grants from SEIU national headquarters. To use just one example, the “Fast Food Workers Committee”—the labor group at the center of NYC’s Fast Food Forward—reported having no members but $1,837,027 in revenue, of which $1,824,949 (99.3%) came in subsidies from SEIU headquarters.
  3. Worker Centers: Groups like New York Communities for Change continue to play a key role in the campaign. The larger WOCs—Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, and Michigan—are all in six- or seven-figure partnerships with at least one worker center, sometimes more. All the “worker centers” serve to provide manpower and an additional layer of fog keeping SEIU firmly out of the limelight, even though thousands of new SEIU members organized without a vote is the intent of the campaigners.

SEIU’s campaign is huge, well-organized, and well-funded. However, evidence suggests it isn’t getting traction where it matters: The employees themselves. An Associated Press report from earlier this month dryly noted that “it wasn’t clear” what proportion of a New York City demonstration’s participants were actual fast food employees and what proportion were Berlin Rosen, SEIU, or worker center staff organizers.

Congress should advance measures to stop the SEIU’s (and other unions’) efforts to use front groups like WOCs and worker centers to strip employees of their rights. The Employee Rights Act would guarantee that all employees would get a secret ballot to express their true feelings on whether their workplace should be unionized.

Categories: Center for Union FactsChange To WinEmployee Rights ActSEIUWorkers Center