House Republicans will be taking a critical look in the coming year at worker centers, which are advocacy groups often connected to unions.
Business groups have argued the centers are often unions in disguise and should be subject to the same laws, mainly the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, a change that would severely limit the centers' activities.
"Worker centers behave as unions without having to abide by the same federal regulations that protect workers from abuse, and ensure accountability and transparency. Thus, worker centers, which are funded by big labor unions, are using this loophole to replace traditional unions which are required to play by the rules. I think it is time for Congress and the administration to close this loophole and protect workers," Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., told the Washington Examiner.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee has not scheduled any hearings, but the panel has looked at the issue in recent years, said committee spokesman Michael Woeste. "The worker center issue is certainly of interest to the committee," he said.
Now, however, lawmakers have a Republican administration that has been aggressive on labor policy. A source for one major business trade group, speaking anonymously, said it was lobbying the Labor Department to write a new rule updating the LMRDA to cover worker centers "in cases where the centers are acting as unions."
"Worker center" is a catch-all term for nontraditional labor organizing methods and related efforts to represent workers. Labor leaders have redirected resources to the “alt-labor” groups, hoping they will reverse unions' decadeslong slide in membership. Most are nonprofit groups that act similarly to unions. Some are local organizations that provide union-like services — job placement, training, legal help, and so forth — to people who aren’t union members. Others are strident activist groups.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union backed a group called Our Walmart for several years, while the Service Employees International Union has funded a similar group called Fast Food Forward. Both groups have claimed to represent disaffected workers in the retail and fast food industry and have often staged anti-corporate protests and other events. UFCW cut back funding for Our Walmart in 2016, reportedly upset that it hadn't helped to organize the retail chain.
Business groups have long contended that unions use the centers to circumvent federal rules regarding labor activities. Unions cannot, for example, organize protests against a company for more than 30 days without officially seeking an election to represent workers, after which the union must stop protesting. Workers centers, on the other hand, are not restricted in their protesting.