Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Labor’s Flawed Plan B: Become ROC Radicals

Organized labor just had a tough week. First, it had to endure the report of devastating membership numbers that show that only 11.3 percent of the workforce is stuck in a union. Then, the pro-union National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the President who blindly supports labor had to face the reality that the Board was illegally constituted, and its recent radical decisions may soon be no more.

So after comically spinning about the numbers and ignoring the reality that the NLRB has questionable authority at best, it’s clearer than ever that labor needs a backup plan.

Josh Eidelson, a union organizer-journalistwrites in the American Prospect that the next generation of the so-called labor movement will be in the form of “alt-labor.” Eidelson devotes much of his article to the UNITE HERE-linked Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a radical labor group that isn’t legally a union. Eidelson would know best: According to his blog, he was an organizer for UNITE HERE for five years, so undoubtedly, ROC is close to his heart. Groups like ROC are part of labor’s rebranding, trying to make itself more palatable to the employee of the 21st century (or even the latter half of the 20th, for that matter).

The problem is that ROC and others like it provide all of the problems of regular unions and none of the benefits. “Alt-labor” groups are convinced that they have managed to find the sweet spot that allows them to ignore the hard work posed by running a real union and to focus on well-publicized harassment and shakedowns. In an article published in Engage, a legal journal, this strategy is explained:

In a 2006 interview, Saru Jayarman, the Executive Director of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a worker center located in New York, said one of the primary benefits of not being classified as a labor organization is the ability to avoid certain legal duties associated with the union-member relationship.  According to Jayaraman, this includes not having to spend time and money arbitrating worker grievances because, unlike labor organizations, worker centers do not owe a duty of fair representation to workers. Second, worker centers have not considered themselves to be limited by the NLRA restrictions on secondary picketing and protracted recognitional picketing, and such conduct is a common tool used by these groups to convey their message.

Even with its ability to skate around the law, ROC has still managed to find itself in hot water. In July of last year, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote to the recently-departed Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to inform her of the pending investigation into ROC’s activities. The letter revealed that ROC and the restaurant it operates “have a history of disputes over wages,” and required “100 hours of free labor” of its supposed employee-owners.  The restaurant also had “serious health and sanitation violations.”

But Eidelson says that this is what labor will look like in the foreseeable future, and the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have both endorsed the worker center “movements.”

That’s to say that the future of labor lies in the louder, less-effective, and more abusive worker centers. Organized labor has to know that this will merely hasten its demise.

Categories: Center for Union FactsLegalUNITE HERE