Worker centers have long exploited a loophole in federal labor law—and it’s time for the Department of Labor to close it. That’s the message in a recent letter from the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, praised by the Workforce Fairness Institute.
Worker centers operate like labor unions, but don’t obey the transparency and conduct rules that labor unions must abide by. Federal law has required labor unions to publicly file annual financial reports with the Department of Labor detailing receipts, expenditures, compensation, and other financial information since 1959. Additionally, labor unions are prohibited from certain activity when it is trying to organize a workplace, such as harassing companies that merely do business with a targeted company. Essentially, certain strong-arm tactics are “out of bounds.”
Worker centers, however, have so far dodged being classified as labor unions. Instead, these groups are often organized as public charities (501(c)(3) organizations), which allows them to avoid these transparency and conduct regulations. Look no further than the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a south Florida-based worker center that conduct street protests and smear campaigns to pressure restaurants and supermarkets to join its “Fair Food Program,” a fund that companies pay into that supposedly goes to give raises to tomato pickers. Other examples include the union-funded “Fight for $15” and “OUR Walmart.”
Congress is now looking at Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to help close the loophole. At a hearing in November, Secretary Acosta told Rep. Francis Rooney that the Department of Labor is “looking at” worker centers. It’s time for action.