Topics: Labor Unions

Worker centers are doing unions' dirty work for the holidays

By |
Diana Furchtgott Roth,Columnists,Labor unions,Jobs,Labor,Analysis

Thursday is Thanksgiving. Amid economic hard times, millions of Americans are thankful to have a job.

Some self-anointed worker centers think that some employees should not be thankful. In addition to Black Friday demonstrations outside Walmart, they are organizing protests on Dec. 5 to try to get restaurant workers to strike.

Their goal is a $15 hourly wage and the right to form a union -- a right workers already have.

The Service Employees International Union and AFL-CIO are leading the charge. They have funded worker centers, labor organizations such as Restaurant Opportunities Center United and Jobs with Justice, that use demonstrations and community organizing to advocate for supposed worker rights.

No matter that restaurant workers might not be hired at $15 an hour, or that they might not want to join the SEIU to bail out the union's failing pension plans.

Kentucky Jobs with Justice, working with SEIU Local 320 NCFO, is asking people to stand with striking fast food workers from McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. Jobs with Justice and its affiliates received $40,604 from the AFL-CIO, $290,000 from the SEIU, and $212,000 from the United Food and Commercial Workers in 2012.

Stand Up KC, a group for fast food and retail workers, is organizing a rally in Kansas City, Mo.

Wisconsin Jobs Now is holding rallies in Eau Claire, Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Racine and Wausau.

Atlanta Jobs with Justice is organizing “The Rally to Raise the Wage!” in Cleopas R. Johnson Park in Atlanta.

Worker centers are doing the dirty work that unions are not allowed to do. Unions are constrained by laws that include the 1935 Wagner Act, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, and the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act.

Unlike worker centers, unions must hold supervised elections so that members can elect union officials as representatives. Worker centers do not necessarily represent employees. Employees can decertify a union — dismiss it from representing them — but they cannot dismiss a worker center.

Unions must file annual financial disclosure forms with the Labor Department, specifying how they spend their money.

Unlike unions, many worker centers such as Jobs With Justice and ROC are organized as 501(c)(3) entities, allowing them to receive tax-deductible donations. This raises contributions from people and foundations.

Union membership in America is declining, with less funding for union officials’ salaries and political contributions. Aging union membership means that retirees’ generous defined benefit pension plans are frequently unsustainable.

The Labor Department has informed the SEIU that several of its pension plans have reached “critical status” because they are less than 65 percent funded. The list of pension plans in critical condition is available here.

Both the 1199 SEIU Greater New York Pension Plan and the Service Employees Pension Fund of Upstate New York are in their fifth year of critical status.

Plans need a stream of new members to pay pensions of existing retirees — even though plans might go broke before the young workers retire. It would be unwise for restaurant workers to pay into these failing pension plans. Better a tax-favored Individual Retirement Account.

Hence the unions’ funding of worker centers, who can hold protests to stigmatize companies into allowing unionization without a secret ballot.

On Monday members of ROC protested outside the Capital Grille in Pittsburgh because the restaurant plans to open on Thanksgiving.

But ROC’s open job description for a "workplace justice organizer" states that “organizers are required to work long and irregular hours including work on weekends and on holidays as necessary.”

Requiring ROC employees to work on Thanksgiving, while protesting because Capital Grille employees do the same, neatly encapsulates the hypocrisy of worker centers.

Examiner Columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth (dfr@manhattan-institute.org), former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Columnist
The Washington Examiner