What Is a “Workers Center”? Just Another Name for a Union?

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

On Monday, July 29, workers staged a series of one-day strikes in seven cities across the country at some of the nation’s best known and most profitable fast-food restaurants. The protesters are calling for a living wage of $15 an hour. The effort is part of the increasing use of “workers centers” in lieu of formal union affiliation.

To offset the continuing decline in union density, which is now at 6.9% in the private sector, unions and other workers’ rights advocates have turned to new forms of representation. One such phenomenon are “workers centers,” which provide a variety of services short of collective bargaining, but including advocacy on issues such as compensation, employment, lobbying labor policy, and community organizing. Like traditional labor unions, workers centers engage employers on wages, hours, and the terms and conditions of employment. They organize and coordinate community rallies and protests against individual employers in which they call upon workers to walk off the job in protest of workplace conditions or wages.

Currently, there are 139 workers centers in 32 states, and their numbers are increasing. Workers centers are organized around a single company, such as Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), or an entire industry, such as the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) and the Retail Action Project (RAP). Workers centers may be national or local, such as the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), which focuses on organizing grocery store, garment, and restaurant workers in the Koreatown neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Scratch the surface of workers centers and it will expose unions as their founders and supporters. OUR Walmart, for example, is closely aligned with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which claims it as a subsidiary in the union’s filings with the U.S. Department of Labor. ROC-United is closely associated with UNITE HERE, and RAP is closely connected to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU) and its parent, the UFCW.

Why do unions create these new organizations and what do they mean for employers? One reason, of course, is that they provide an alternative to traditional unions, which are considered to be and are regulated as “labor organizations” under the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). Free from the laws’ election rules, unfair labor practice regulations, and reporting requirements, workers centers can operate more freely. Also, while most workers centers do not provide formal collective bargaining rights, they earn their members’ dues for other services which may one day lead to traditional representation. Ultimately, unions use workers centers to pressure employers as part of a “corporate campaign” to force neutrality and card-check recognition of the union without a secret ballot election, or capitulation to union bargaining demands.

The issue of whether, in fact, workers centers constitute “labor organizations” is not without controversy. On July 23, for example, Reps. John Kline (R-MN) and Phil Roe (R-TN), who are Chairman and Subcommittee Chairman, respectively, of the House Education and the Workforce Committee wrote a letter asking new Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez for an official determination as to whether worker centers constitute labor organizations under the LMRDA and are therefore subject to the law’s reporting and disclosure requirements.

The definition of “labor organization” under section 402(i) of the LMRDA is an organization:

engaged in an industry affecting commerce and includes any organization of any kind, any agency, or employee representation committee, group, association, or plan so engaged in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours, or other terms or conditions of employment.

If, indeed, workers centers are simply a disguised form of labor organizations, they will be required to report and disclose financial and other arrangements, just as employers and outside third parties are required to disclose information under the LMRDA’s “persuader activity” regulations when they go beyond the law’s “advice exemption.” Of course, the Labor Department has proposed significant revisions to the current “advice exemption,” virtually eviscerating the exemption and requiring reporting and disclosure of attorney-client confidences by employers and their outside counsel during union organizing campaigns and collective bargaining. The proposed regulations are scheduled for final action in November. It will be interesting to see whether the new Secretary of Labor exempts “workers centers” from reporting and disclosure, but virtually eliminates the advice exemption for employers and their outside counsel.

Harold P. Coxson is a principal with Ogletree Governmental Affairs, Inc. and a shareholder in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.