Organized Labor's Unorganized Future
Berman, Richard, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The AFL-CIO, by its own admission, entered its annual September convention in a state of crisis. Union membership has been declining for decades, and not even the pro-labor policies of the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor and the current administration have been able to save it.
But that doesn't mean that labor leaders are giving up. On Sept. 9, the labor federation approved its last-ditch plan to stave off irrelevancy: incorporate into the movement labor-union front groups that are exempt from federal labor law, otherwise known as "worker centers."
Labor leaders have succeeded in portraying worker centers as nonunion community groups that advocate for low-wage workers. Many of them are registered as charities, nonprofits and other tax- exempt entities. This legal loophole is the key to their existence: It frees them from many of the employee protections established by the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
But you wouldn't know worker centers weren't unions by looking at what they do. In practice, they organize paid pickets who protest and advocate in lockstep with their labor union parents for policies like living-wage laws, mandatory paid leave and more.
In fact, the only major practical difference between worker centers and actual labor unions is that worker centers don't "deal with" the employer through negotiations. Instead, they use professional union organizers to single out a select group of employees with grievances -- sometimes no more than a few dozen -- and then engage in nuisance "strikes" and make demands of the employer that would apply to the entire workforce.
The ultimate goal, however, is still complete unionization -- even when these protests start as a Potemkin village of strikers masterminded by union organizers. …