Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), there are rules and rights governing how labor unions can gain recognition and organize employees. Additionally, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) regulates union governance and financial standards, which ensure that employees have the freedom to join or not join a union.
As an increasing number of employees recognize that the labor movement has been left behind by the changing economy, unions have turned to a new tactic to maintain a steady revenue stream. According to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.6 percent of private-sector employees are union members, a 70-year low. Unions’ standing in the public eye has also declined: a Gallup poll shows that union approval has fallen ten points in the past decade.
Rather than choosing reform, unions are seeding so-called “worker centers” to organize employees without the hassle of National Labor Relations Board procedures and disclosure protections given to employees under labor law. Unions are attempting to “re-brand” the same old practices and same old leadership in the new garb of the “worker centers.”
Saru Jayaraman of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) worker center has said that exemption from the regulations on a labor organization under federal law is critical to a worker center’s operations model. She wrote:
Since they are not constrained by the same restrictions that unions face, these worker centers have been able to find creative models for organizing extremely marginal, contingent workers, in their own language and often outside the [alleged] intimidation of their workplace.
Union leaders have endorsed the “worker centers” and similar non-National Labor Relations Act models of worker organization. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, has openly called for models of new unionism that worker centers advocate and represent.