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.
As reported in The Hill, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just released a report detailing the role of worker centers in union fundraising. Worker centers are playing an increasingly larger role in backing labor causes as traditional unionization efforts continue to underperform.
Worker centers often engage in highly disruptive campaigns against employers, usually taking aim at a specific industry, such as restaurants or retail. They are behind the protests and demonstrations surrounding fast-food establishments and Walmart, sparking national attention. In terms of goals and objectives, worker centers are aligned with Big Labor interests. But how, exactly, do they work and who funds them?
According to Glenn Spencer, vice president of the Chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, “Contrary to their public façade, union front groups are well-financed, highly-sophisticated labor organizations …When you pull back the curtain, one finds a river of financial support flowing to these groups from activist foundations.” In fact, from 2009 – 2012, that river of financial support burst its banks to the tune of $57 million dollars. They may technically be non-profits, but worker centers sure do rake in a lot of cash.
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, aswell 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.
While labor heads, including the AFL-CIO, hope worker centers will help revive membership recruitment and generate additional funding, the results of their efforts remain to be seen. One thing is certain though, Big Labor is doing everything it can to hold onto their power, even as it slips through their fingers.