Workforce Fairness Institute

What is a worker center?

What do you do when you’re a labor boss at a time when union membership is at its lowest point in over 50 years? Anything you can to save a sinking ship, apparently. That includes forming new union front groups called “worker centers” to pull in additional funding for unionization efforts. By forming under the guise of charitable organizations, worker centers are able to seek funding from a wider array of sources than traditional unions. Collective bargaining units primarily rely on members’ dues to fund their organizing activity. However, as more workers decide to opt out of unions and more business-friendly states embrace right-to-work status, labor’s power continues to dwindle. Worker centers, therefore, give union bosses the opportunity to draw in additional funding from a variety of foundations, as well as from state and federal government sources. These union front groups, importantly, are not bound by any of the laws that govern the behavior of unions.

“What is a Worker Center?”:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Workforce Freedom Initiative just released a report, “The Emerging Role of Worker Centers in Union Organization,” detailing the role of worker centers in union fundraising. These worker centers are playing an increasingly larger role in backing labor causes as traditional unionization efforts continue to underperform. Here are the key takeaways from the Chamber’s assessment:

The Emerging Role of Worker Centers
In Union Organizing:
Fact Sheet

A report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI) examines some of the actors, strategies and tactics behind the growing movement of union front groups called worker centers in the United States.
  • With union membership is at its lowest point in over 50 years, labor leaders have struggled to reverse a downward trend, and worker centers are part of the solution.
  • In fact, the AFL-CIO made it an express policy to promote the worker center model of organizing at its 2013 quadrennial convention.
  • Worker centers often engage in highly disruptive campaigns against employers, typically targeting a specific industry such as restaurants or retail establishments.
  • Although they act like unions in some respects, including demanding higher wages and richer benefits, worker centers typically organize as 501(c)(3)s under the Internal Revenue Code.
  • By forming as charitable organizations, worker centers open the possibility of seeking funding from a variety of foundations as well as from state and federal government sources.
  • A review of foundation grants from 2009-2012 reveals that selected foundations contributed over $57,000,000 to several worker centers discussed in the report.
  • Several large foundations fund these worker centers, including the Ford, General Service, Hill-Snowdon, Kellogg, Kresge, Nathan Cummings, Rockefeller and Tides foundations.
  • Records demonstrate six and seven-figure donations to groups such as the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Miami Workers Center, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), etc.
  • Foundation giving in 2012 topped $50 billion, and significant sums were devoted to economic, political, and social activism, which can often include labor activism and support for “community groups” that represent a complex activist network.
Worker centers bolster the efforts of traditional labor unions, which rely mostly on members’ dues to fund various organizing activity. The worker center movement poses a significant shift in Labor’s approach to recruiting a new, diverse membership, and the network continues to expand. What the results of their efforts will be remains to be seen.

Are you prepared for pro-union boss worker center disruptions in your community? Here are 5 things you should know:

1. If you are harassed, CALL your local authorities to report the incident.
2. Know that these are PAID union protestors, dedicated to disrupting your community.
3. Take pictures/video and SHARE with us exactly how they are ruining the holiday spirit.
4. TWEET and FACEBOOK your pictures using the hashtag #BlackFridayProtests
5. If you’re shopping, THANK the employees sacrificing time with their family in order to serve you.


© 2014 Workforce Fairness Institute